Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu loves maps. Considering them a helpful tool to illustrate his view of global affairs, he often brings them along to public speeches, to briefings with the press and to hearings in the Knesset.
“May I reveal to the members of the press that there is a big map in my office, and it’s been made bigger,” he said last week during a meeting with Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes in Jerusalem. “It used to be the Middle East. Now it encompasses a good chunk of the Eastern hemisphere.”
The map of the world Netanyahu brandished Monday at the Knesset State Control Committee, where he defended his foreign policy record, offers some valuable insights into his view of Israel’s place among the family of nations. (A quarter-century ago, as he was rising to become the leader of the then-Likud opposition, Netanyahu published a book entitled, “A Place Among the Nations: Israel in the World.”)
The map, a copy of which was made available to The Times of Israel, is meant to highlight positive trends in Israel’s foreign relations. It divides the world’s countries into different categories: those with which Jerusalem has “recently developed/upgraded” relations are marked in red; states that entertain “good relations” with Israel are in blue; and “overtly hostile enemy states” are in black. With the rest of the world, in green, “Israel does not have special relations,” according to the prime minister’s aides, who created the map especially for Monday’s Knesset session.
The prime minister is widely regarded as having a fairly bleak outlook when it comes to the international community’s relations with Israel, or perhaps more accurately as regards the dependability of certain allies, but his new map actually belies this. Drawn up for the specific political purpose of asserting that global ties are flourishing under the current foreign minister (Netanyahu), the multi-colored message, overall, is that Israel has lots and lots and lots of friends. And, most remarkably, that even among those nations that might think of themselves as deeply hostile to the Jewish state, only very few are deemed to merit the black mark of a real enemy.
The countries in red are those the prime minister sought to highlight as they ostensibly prove the success of his foreign policy. Those eye-catching red patches indicate improved ties with diplomatic and economic powerhouses such as Japan, China, Russia, South Korea, Singapore and India; increasing cooperation with Greece and Cyprus; normalization with Turkey; and robust ties with Azerbaijan, which Netanyahu plans to visit soon. A striking omission from this category is Egypt, which the map shows in green despite a noticeable rapprochement between Cairo and Jerusalem.
Ten countries in Africa are colored red: Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, (states Netanyahu visited earlier this month) Tanzania (which recently announced its intention to open its first-ever embassy in Israel), Guinea (which last week re-established diplomatic ties with Jerusalem after a 49-year hiatus), Chad (where Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold visited last week), South Sudan, Zambia and Ivory Coast.
In August 2015, Netanyahu declared Latin America to be “one of the main objectives of the State of Israel in the context of its efforts to develop markets that will contribute to increasing economic growth.” As things stand, on his map, only three countries there are marked red: Colombia, Paraguay and Argentina.
Brazil, the world’s seventh largest economy — with which Israel seeks to further develop commercial ties, but with which it had a diplomatic falling out over the aborted appointment of ex-settler leader Dani Dayan — appears in green, signifying the absence of “special relations.”
Mexico, Chile, Panama and South Africa — countries that have full diplomatic ties with Israel and significant Jewish communities — are likewise in green.
There are plenty of obvious and some interesting inclusions among the countries colored blue on Netanyahu’s map, signaling “good relations” with Israel: The United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand (despite a recent diplomatic spat) and all of Europe — East and West — despite ongoing tension over the European Union’s critical approach to Israeli policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians and other differences.
But two European countries are singled out as a little less friendly than the others: Sweden and Ireland appear in light blue, illustrating their particularly critical attitudes toward Israel. Sweden is the only Western European nation that recognized a Palestinian state, but what Ireland did to deserve a lighter shade of blue than similarly pro-Palestinian EU member states is somewhat unclear. (Denmark is also in light blue but this appears to be a technical error).
“Today Israel is perceived more and more as an asset and an influencing element in the world because of our war on terror and our technological achievements,” Netanyahu told the State Control Committee on Monday.
”We have achieved free trade with China, a 30 percent increase in trade with India, an agreement with Japan on protecting rigs, military coordination with Russia, initial ties with a host of African countries, heads of state visiting Israel for the first time, the normalization of ties with Turkey, and every week I meet with four heads of state. Israel’s foreign policy is a great success,” he declared.
And what about those countries that do not perceive Israel as an asset and a positive influence?
On his map, which he waved around several times during Monday’s two-hour session, only five countries are colored in black, thus identified as enemy states: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and North Korea. (Lebanon’s status is indiscernible). Perhaps most instructive about this category is those nations it does not include: Yemen, Saudi Arabia (both countries Israelis are forbidden by law from entering), Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Sudan, Pakistan, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Indonesia, Cuba, Venezuela and other states with which Israel does not have diplomatic ties.
Thus one conclusion students of Netanyahu’s map might be forgiven for drawing is this: Israel has plenty of friends in the world — about 30 old friends, 20 new friends, countless potential future friends — and very, very few enemies.