Israeli Diplomats Outnumbered, Outspent, Outcast

YERUSHALAYIM -
Kulanu MK Michael Oren, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Kulanu MK Michael Oren, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israelis have long agonized over the difficulty of getting its message across in international forums, but the fact is, the country is not even trying, according to a Foreign Ministry official speaking at an annual gathering of ambassadors.

The numbers speak for themselves. The 22 members of the Arab League have 1,799 missions and delegations abroad. Turkey has 233 delegations; Iran maintains 142 missions abroad; and the Palestinian Authority fields 101.

Israel has a mere 108, and is in the process of closing six of them.

Of course, these are bigger countries (not counting the PA) with more resources. But that does not adequately explain the disproportion, asserted Hanan Goder-Goldberger, Israel’s non-resident ambassador to South Sudan and a representative of the Foreign Ministry’s workers’ committee

He told the The Jerusalem Post that Israel could afford to do much more, and he found the failure to expand the operations of the Foreign Ministry inexplicable.

Compared to countries of similar size, Israel was not holding its own either. Smaller countries such as Greece, Norway and the Czech Republic have 142, 115 and 123 respectively. And there is no comparison when it comes to the urgency of Israel’s representation abroad. No other country faces the existential threats that Israel faces. Why, then, doesn’t Israel allocate more funds to the Foreign Ministry?

“Maybe it’s because we look too good already,” he suggested sarcastically. “Maybe because foreign relations is unimportant. I don’t understand it.”

Goder-Goldberger said that one of the problems was that the Foreign Ministry lacks a full-time minister – Prime Minister Netanyahu is also the country’s foreign minister – and as a result there is no one “to bang on the tables” and demand budgets, or to fight when bits and pieces of the ministry are taken away and given to other ministries, such as NIS 100 million given to the Strategic Affairs Ministry to fight BDS.

The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, chaired by Kulanu MK Michael Oren, discussed the problem on Wednesday.

The Foreign Ministry’s Noam Katz, from the ministry’s public diplomacy division, told the committee that the budget for public diplomacy of NIS 14m. is far below what it should be, crippling the national effort.

Katz cited the case of Sweden, a major critic of Israel, where the public diplomacy budget stands at only $19,000.

Oren said it was “impossible to seriously fight delegitimization of Israel and the BDS movement with a marketing budget of NIS 14M., when, by comparison, the Osem firm’s annual advertising budget is NIS 110M.