FM rejects his ministry’s report warning of judicial overhaul’s diplomatic cost

Eli Cohen says findings reflect opinion of author alone, not his own assessment; anonymous diplomat blasts minister for ‘throwing foreign service officials under the bus’

Israelis block the Ayalon highway and clash with police in Tel Aviv during a protest against the government's planned judicial overhaul on March 23, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)
Israelis block the Ayalon highway and clash with police in Tel Aviv during a protest against the government's planned judicial overhaul on March 23, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen on Thursday rejected the findings of an internal report from his ministry that warned of the damaging ramifications of the government’s judicial overhaul effort to Israel’s international standing.

The decision to compile the report was made in March. According to the Walla news site, the ministry initially sought to avoid grappling with the contentious issue of the judicial overhaul, but a flurry of negative messages from countries around the globe warning that the government’s initiative to radically curb the High Court of Justice’s power risked upending their ties with the Jewish state led the ministry to conclude that it could not ignore the issue any longer.

A handful of very senior officials commissioned the report while agreeing to keep the circle of those who knew about its compilation at a minimum due to the sensitivity of the issue, Walla said.

While written in cautious language, the report found that Israel’s international standing has been slowly deteriorating since the establishment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline government on December 29, particularly because of the overhaul plan it unveiled days after being sworn in.

The report explained that the combination of the shakeup effort and incendiary statements by ministers regarding Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians have harmed the decades-long effort by Jerusalem to demonstrate that it holds shared values with the West and is still interested in peace with the Palestinians, even as the conflict continues, Walla said.

It also found that the internal tensions within Israel over the judicial overhaul have led to doubts among countries in the Gulf regarding Israel’s stability and about whether it will be possible to expand the Abraham Accords, according to Walla.

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen at a ceremony in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, January 2, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The authors offered several recommendations to the government for how to better explain its policies regarding the Palestinians and the judicial overhaul, as well as for how to improve increasingly strained ties with Jewish communities abroad.

The report was submitted to Cohen’s office last month but was never discussed and the foreign minister told Walla that he had never even seen it until Thursday.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a Thursday statement that Cohen “does not accept the assessment presented in the report. It does not express the position of all ministry officials and does not reflect a true picture of the situation. The report reflects the author’s opinion alone.”

Walla revealed, however, that the report was written by multiple diplomats, including Rachel Feinmesser, who heads the Foreign Ministry’s Policy Research Center, and Ditza Froim, who heads the ministry’s Policy Planning Bureau. The commissioning of their report was approved by several of their superiors.

“From the many conversations held by the minister and those at the top of the Foreign Ministry with counterparts abroad, a completely different picture emerges from the one presented in the report,” the Foreign Ministry spokesman’s statement added.

Demonstrators light flares during a rally in Tel Aviv to protest the Israeli government’s judicial overhaul bill, as the country begins celebrations for its 75th anniversary, on April 25, 2023. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Responding to Cohen’s dismissal of the report, an Israeli diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity told Walla, “As a civil servant and as a diplomat in the Foreign Service, I am ashamed of the response issued by the Foreign Ministry.”

“Dedicated ministry employees prepared a professional report for the consideration of the minister and the senior ranks of the ministry and instead of [the minister] listening to the professional assessments made by diplomats with decades of experience in the foreign service, the authors are attacked.”

“An absurd situation has arisen in which the true assessment of the situation does not reach the decision makers because the employees of the ministry are afraid to express their professional position, as they know that this will have an impact on their job security. This culture of silence that pervades the Foreign Ministry is one of the causes of the erosion of Israel’s international standing,” the diplomat said.

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