Foreign Ministry denies its own official’s claim public diplomacy activities halted

Ministry says NIS 100 million transferred to maintain government efforts to justify war on Hamas, after public diplomacy official said lack of funds has caused them to cease

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

Emmanuel Nahshon outside the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on January 28, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
File: Emmanuel Nahshon outside the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on January 28, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Foreign Ministry on Tuesday denied its own official’s claim that its public diplomacy efforts had ceased due to lack of funding, amid concerns such a development had occurred at a time when such services are crucial as Israel fights its war against the Hamas terror group.

The ministry stressed the Finance Ministry had transferred NIS 100 million ($26 million) to fund the activities on Monday, allowing the Foreign Ministry to “implement all its tasks against the background of the war, including hasbara activities and preserve the space of ​​legitimacy [for the war].”

The statement came after the ministry’s deputy director-general for public diplomacy, Emmanuel Nahshon, informed the Knesset Subcommittee on Foreign Affairs and Public Diplomacy that hasbara initiatives were suspended, claiming that they receive an amount of funding that is 10 percent of what is invested in tourism.

The committee chair, National Unity MK Ze’ev Elkin, expressed frustration at the alleged development, urging the transfer of NIS 200 million ($53 million) to the ministry.

“If there is a headline for this discussion, it would be this: The State of Israel decided during the most critical moment, in war, to suspend activities of the Foreign Ministry,” he said.

“Hasbara is a war front. I don’t believe that there isn’t a solution. This is like saying to the army, don’t fire your gun, it’s expensive,” he told the committee.

MK Ze’ev Elkin attends the funeral of Israeli soldier Yossi Hershkovitz, at Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem on November 12, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

An internal Foreign Ministry document quoted by the Ynet news site stated that the ministry’s Spanish, Persian and Russian publications had ceased on Monday.

The document praised the Spanish language efforts, which included “1,100 posts and tweets in Spanish that received over 200 million views on the platforms… in six weeks of war.”

“Yesterday, we were informed that the budget intended for the Spanish language has run out (in addition to the Russian and Persian languages), and the parties responsible for granting financial approvals are not at all prepared to discuss increasing the quota of hours or covering the payment for the hours that the people actually worked,” the document read.

Elkin told a representative from the Finance Ministry’s budget department that there is a need to act quickly to resolve the issue within 10 days.

“When we look at the management of this campaign, the system won’t operate without monetary investment. If we don’t win this war, there won’t be any tourism,” he said.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid, chair of the Yesh Atid party, said in a post on X there were several ways to solve the issue that “won’t cost a [cent].”

He suggested interviews on foreign networks, press briefings to foreign reporters, use of the prime minister’s and other ministers’ social media pages, and working with “social influencers like Gal Gadot, Noa Tishby and others.”

Likud MK Dan Illouz said it was “insane” that the services were apparently being shut down.

“We are in a war with many fronts, and also the hasbara front, a front that allows us to receive global support for the continuation of the fight. It is unacceptable that during war we are suspending one of our efforts on this front,” he wrote on X, demanding action by the Finance Ministry and Foreign Ministry to come to a funding arrangement.

Israel has faced the grueling task of explaining the necessity of its offensive against Hamas, as images of the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip fill global headlines.

A smoke plume erupts in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on November 14, 2023. (Said Khatib/AFP)

The war erupted after Hamas terrorists rampaged across southern communities on October 7, killing around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in their homes and at a music festival, and abducting at least 240 people to the Gaza Strip.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza alleged that Israel’s intense aerial and ground offensive targeting Hamas since then has killed over 11,000 people. The figure cannot be verified independently and is believed to include members of terror groups and civilians killed by misfired Palestinian rockets.

Likud MK Galit Distel Atbaryan served as public diplomacy minister until she stepped down from the job five days after the war broke out, saying her office had been sidelined and other government agencies instead tasked with rallying international support for the Jewish state during the war.

Distel Atbaryan quit her post 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.

The office was shut down shortly after, and its funds were directed to rehabilitate communities near the Gaza border.

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