Foreign Ministry workers said Saturday they would boycott Education Minister Naftali Bennett until he apologized for for expressing doubt in their commitment to the country.
In an interview with Tel Aviv Radio on Friday, the head of the Jewish Home party attacked former ministry director-general Alon Liel, calling him a “pyromaniac,” after Liel met with the heads of left-wing NGO Breaking the Silence and gave them advice on their conduct in Israel and the global stage.
“I’m starting to think there’s something wrong with the DNA of the Foreign Ministry,” Bennett said. “If people like Alon Liel stayed so long in the Foreign Ministry then there’s a deep-seated problem there. People ask where is the hasbara (a Hebrew term for public advocacy of Israel’s cause). What hasbara, when the number-one pyromaniac is at the head of the system?”
In response, the union of Foreign Ministry employees lashed out at the minister, saying in a statement that “Israel’s Education Minister has made distorted statements against the workers of the Foreign Ministry…doubting the loyalty of the workers to the state, its institutions and its government.
“The disagreeable remarks of solitary retirees from the Foreign Ministry cannot serve as an excuse for unchecked excoriation by a government minister against the (ministry) employees,” it said.
The union said it had instructed all ministry workers to halt all cooperation with Bennett “until he clarifies his remarks and apologizes.”
Bennett meanwhile told Channel 2 news in response that his statements were only made “towards those who act against the state of Israel like Alon Liel… It is clear that the Foreign Ministry workers are highly averse to his conduct and work tirelessly and devotedly for the nation.”
According to a report in the Hebrew-language daily Yedioth Ahronoth Wednesday, Liel briefed heads of Breaking the Silence on how to deal with criticism. He explained to them why it was important that they focus their activity outside Israel, told them what lessons they could glean from the international boycott against apartheid South Africa, and described how he had worked to prevent the appointment of settler leader Dani Dayan to the post of ambassador to Brazil.
“Sanctions against South Africa started when public opinion realized that black is white and white is black,” Liel reportedly said. “As soon as it happened in European public opinion, it started happening. You are spearheading the effort to tell the world that the occupation is intolerable to us and intolerable to [the Palestinians]. It’s intolerable for both peoples, and as soon as there will be recognition that it’s intolerable, things will start to change.”