Watchdog: Netanyahu hobbled foreign ministry, hindered BDS fight

May 24, 2016  

Two State Comptroller’s reports into Israeli public diplomacy have excoriated the government’s mismanagement and neglect of the foreign ministry, accusing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of seriously hobbling the Foreign Ministry.

In the reports – one on foreign diplomacy and the other on Israel’s efforts to combat the BDS boycott movement – State Comptroller Yoseph Shapira describes how since coming back into office in 2009, Netanyahu oversaw a process whereby Foreign Ministry responsibilities were either needless replicated, or transferred entirely, to other ministries.

After years of undermining the Foreign Ministry, it has become severely weakened and underfunded – resulting in serious damage to Israel’s image and diplomacy abroad.

Damningly, Netanyahu’s motivations in doing so have been purely political. In Israel’s coalition government system, senior politicians from different parties within the government compete fiercely for ministries, often issuing ultimatums which could topple the government. Netanyahu’s solution has been to simply create more ministries, or “bulk up” previously junior ministries by shuffling responsibilities between the various portfolios. 

For example, in a bid to placate Moshe Ya’alon in 2009 – who at the time felt snubbed for not receiving the Defense Ministry – Netanyahu transferred authority for combating BDS from the Foreign Ministry to Ya’alon’s new and improved “Strategic Affairs Ministry” which had been scrapped altogether previously.

That set off a furious power struggle between the two ministries, the report revealed. That struggle continued into 2013, when more funding and responsibility for fighting BDS was diverted from the Foreign Ministry to the Strategic Affairs Ministry.

Then, in 2015, the government reassigned responsibility (and budgets) again, handing responsibility for the majority of anti-BDS efforts back to the Foreign Ministry. But that move merely sparked off a fresh struggle between the warring ministries.

In his report, Shapira recommended transferring all responsibilities for countering BDS back to the Foreign Ministry, which he said was best equipped to deal with the issue.

“The Strategic Affairs Ministry still lacks the Foreign Ministry’s inherent advantages, including knowledge and professional experience, the infrastructure of 106 missions throughout the world, combined with a deep, years-long familiarity with local social and cultural attitudes in each country needed to effectively combat BDS; in addition, it has unmediated access to the battlefield and to collaboration with sympathetic groups and organizations abroad,” he wrote.

“From 2005-10, the Foreign Ministry worked to promote Israel’s position among target audiences abroad, without the government giving it specific authorities to assist with this,” it continued, blasting the government for “creat[ing] new public diplomacy ministries and authoriz[ing] them to deal with image and awareness issues internationally that directly impact Israel’s national strength and national security.

“In terms of both the process and the results, not only was there no cooperation between these ministries and the Foreign Ministry, but there was ongoing wrangling among them regarding authority, areas of responsibility and resources.”

Anti-Israel forces have naturally seized the opportunity, Shapira warned.

“Israel is not effectively countering the open hostility from different parties abroad which cast doubt on Israel’s very right to exist as a Jewish nation-state,” he wrote, adding worryingly that even the support of former Israeli allies were being eroded as a result.

“The messages they are broadcasting to the wider public are also seeping into groups that once supported Israel unreservedly,” he said.

Transferring authority back to the Foreign Ministry would significantly improve the government’s performance in combating anti-Israel activities abroad, he added.

A similar phenomenon has occurred under Netanyahu’s watch in the battle against anti-Semitism in the Diaspora. Again, the cause was Netanyahu’s efforts to placate another senior Likudnik in 2009: Yuli Edelstein, who at the time was appointed to the new position of Diaspora Affairs Minister and the bewilderingly unnecessary Public Diplomacy Minister.

Responsibility and resources for fighting anti-Semitism were transferred from the Prime Minister’s Office to Edelstein’s new office – while the Foreign Ministry continued its own totally independent department on the exact same issue.

And again, that triggered off a prolonged struggle to determine who precisely was responsible for what. Predictably, the actually struggle against anti-Semitism suffered significantly as a result, with the under-equipped, inexperienced Diaspora Affairs Ministry futilely playing catch-up.

Shapira recommended in that case as well that roles be amalgamated and streamlined.

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