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'We insulted them and made speeches against them'

Lapid assails Netanyahu-era neglect for diplomacy as antisemitism soared

Foreign minister says lack of investment in advocacy led to rise in anti-Jewish hatred around world; claims that potential supporters were driven away

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaks during a briefing at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, on July 25, 2021. (Lazar Berman/ Times of Israel)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaks during a briefing at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, on July 25, 2021. (Lazar Berman/ Times of Israel)

Israel’s neglect of public advocacy and diplomacy in recent years led to a rise in antisemitism and support in the West for terrorist organizations, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Sunday, in a strong rebuke to former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“They are doing this because no one explains to them what is really happening here. They are doing this because Israel’s enemies invested money, time, and effort, and here, they throttled the Foreign Ministry and the hasbara array for political reasons,” he told reporters in a briefing at the Foreign Ministry, using the Hebrew term for public diplomacy.

Netanyahu moved key diplomatic functions into the Prime Minister’s Office and oversaw budget cuts that caused the Foreign Ministry to temporarily suspend most of its diplomatic activities.

The Anti-Defamation League recorded an increase in antisemitic incidents in the US during the first week of the Israel-Hamas fighting in May.

At the time, Jews in New York City experienced a string of assaults and attacks connected to the fighting. In addition to attacks on Jews related to the Israel-Hamas conflict, recent assaults on Jews in the US include the stabbing of a Boston rabbi and bullets fired through synagogue windows. Dozens of Jewish institutions have been vandalized across the US since May, including Holocaust museums, Chabad houses, and schools.

Across Europe too, Jews were assaulted and verbally abused during the Gaza conflict, as they were during previous rounds of violence between Israel and Hamas.

Lapid stressed that Israel has many more friends in the world than it may seem, and that it is possible to widen that circle even further.

President Barack Obama meets with then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, March, 5, 2012, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Lapid pointed to his meetings with European Union foreign ministers in Brussels  earlier this month, the opening of diplomatic missions in the UAE and Morocco, and the improvement in relations with Jordan.

Lapid acknowledged that “there are people that don’t love us” in the press, in the Democratic Party and within the American Jewish community. But the top diplomat maintained there are always people who would like to support Israel among them, too.

“But no one spoke with them. Instead, we insulted them and made speeches against them,” he said.

Netanyahu and his ambassador in the US Ron Dermer were accused of undermining Israel’s traditional bipartisan support in Washington by cozying up to the Republican party where the ideological differences of opinion on Israel are minimal, while alienating Democrats — the party supported by the vast majority of American Jews and whose last president, Barak Obama, sparred regularly with Jerusalem on a number of key issues.

Then-secretary of state John Kerry and then-Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Dermer at the signing of the US-Israel military aid deal in the State Department on September 14, 2016. (Israeli Embassy, Washington)

“We will work with them in a different fashion,” he pledged. “We will conduct a dialogue, argue when we must. We will not immediately declare that everyone who doesn’t agree with us is an antisemite and Israel-hater. This is not how you handle a country’s foreign relations.”

Lapid promised a raft of reforms, some of which have already been implemented, including absorbing the Strategic Affairs Ministry within the Foreign Ministry, increasing the ministry budget and staff size, and ensuring that the Foreign Ministry is at the center of Israel’s decision-making.

“Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and I are totally in sync on this,” he emphasized.

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