Cabinet votes to shutter denuded Public Diplomacy Ministry, send budget to south

Move comes 10 days after minister Galit Distel Atbaryan stepped down, saying others had taken job of explaining Israel abroad

Public Diplomacy Minister Galit Distel Atbaryan is seen at the Celebrate Israel Parade in New York City, June 4, 2023. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)
Public Diplomacy Minister Galit Distel Atbaryan is seen at the Celebrate Israel Parade in New York City, June 4, 2023. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

Israel’s flailing Public Diplomacy Ministry will be shuttered and its budget used instead to rehabilitate communities near the Gaza border, the cabinet decided Sunday.

The decision came over a week after former minister Galit Distel Atbaryan walked off the job, saying her office had been sidelined and other government agencies instead tasked with rallying international support for the Jewish state following the Hamas terror group’s brutal attack on southern Israel on October 7.

The office’s unused budget, NIS 9.4 million ($2.3 million) for 2023 and NIS 14.4 million ($3.5 million) for 2024, will be redirected to the new Tekuma Authority, charged with rehabilitating the devastated western Negev and rebuilding trust in the government.

The authority will also receive the defunct ministry’s 29 full-time employee allocation. The decision will soon be brought to the Knesset for finalization.

It was unclear how many people would be laid off as a result of the decision.

Distel Atbaryan quit her post five days into the war effort, after failing to release any meaningful explanatory content as Israel suffered the largest single-day loss of Jewish life since the Holocaust and entered what is expected to be a protracted war with Hamas.

Public Diplomacy Minister Galit Distel Atbaryan at the Knesset in Jerusalem, February 6, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

World sympathy for Israel following the attacks, in which some 1,400 people were slaughtered by Hamas gunmen who rampaged through southern Israel and more than 200 were kidnapped, has been tempered with concern over reports of mounting civilian deaths in Gaza and in many places has given way to a surge of anti-Israel activism among pro-Palestinian groups and their allies.

In a lengthy social media post on October 12, Distel Atbaryan explained that following Hamas’s brutal assault on southern Israel, the Public Diplomacy Directorate within the Prime Minister’s Office had decided to appoint the Diaspora Affairs Ministry as responsible for coordinating Israel’s wartime public diplomacy alongside the Foreign Ministry, rendering her office redundant.

“I cannot find at this moment any justification for this duplication of powers,” she wrote, calling for the ministry, which had been stripped of any meaningful powers, to be shut.

Demonstrators hold up flags and placards during a pro-Palestinian rally, amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, in London, October 21, 2023. (AP Photo/David Cliff)

“I have no choice but to honestly admit that every day it would continue to operate would be a waste of public funds,” she said.

According to Distel Atbaryan, her ministry had already been hamstrung and had only received a budget allocation more than six months after the government was established in late December.

The firebrand Likud minister had faced significant criticism since entering the post, in particular over her use of the office to heavily promote the government’s judicial overhaul as well as her history of incendiary remarks.

The ministry has been an on-again, off-again fixture of governments in the past decades. In 2009, months after Israel’s first war with Hamas-led terrorists in Gaza, the ministry was revived after years in which various bodies in different agencies and ministries had been tasked with selling Israel’s positions.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the National Public Diplomacy Forum about the IDF's Operation Pillar of Defense on Tuesday. (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the National Public Diplomacy Forum about the IDF’s Operation Pillar of Defense on December 4, 2012. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

In 2015, it was folded into the Strategic Affairs Ministry and lay dormant until being re-established by the current government. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed off on the ministry taking charge of pushing the judicial overhaul to audiences in Israel and abroad, according to the Haaretz daily.

The legislative push to remake the judiciary was shelved in order to bring the National Unity party into an emergency wartime government on October 12.

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