As I sit in the plane departing Ben Gurion Airport in Israel, I think of a country like no other. Senior Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer, also known by "Fu'ad," moments ago told me: "Israel does not fail in its Public Diplomacy efforts, she simply has none." He further stated we are at war.
A former defense minister, Fu'ad understands the core ramification of such a statement, not as a politician, rather from a purely professional viewpoint. We seem to have essentially agreed regarding Israel's failure in Hasbara ("explaining"), the difference being his knowledge can and should translate into action, whereas I write. Given his position, failure to act carries with it a great responsibility. At one point, Israel's current and immediate past leadership will be held accountable.
Minister Ben Eliezer's destination is very close, here in the Mediterranean. I extended an invitation for him to visit in the USA, but he says it is too far for him nowadays. He commented there is one place he is prohibited from visiting--the United Kingdom.
Again, we returned to the very same starting point. Today, a very senior minister is restricted in his travels, not because of national security considerations, rather due to Israel's failure to explain her positions. Israel's enemies find new ways to fight. They cleverly use existing systems and democratic ideals against the very same systems. We admit there is much to do and do little if anything at all.
Head of Opposition and former Foreign Minister Livni had a field day yesterday. A court in the UK had issued a warrant for her arrest for committing war crimes in Gaza. I would not go as far as "crimes," although I would ascribe to her "dereliction of duty." As the Foreign Minister, Mrs. Livni was responsible for Israel's Public Diplomacy efforts during the war. Her Ministry's top officials, though, were convinced we were doing phenomenally well.
So convinced they were in their success, that for a moment I needed to check that I was not dreaming. I was at that time reporting from Israel. Reality check proved their mistake. The success was only in their minds and has translated into the recent Goldstone Report and now the UK action.
Since Livni chose not to go to the UK, the warrant was dismissed. Livni's office issued a statement her visit was cancelled due to scheduling conflicts and her inability to meet those she intended. An interesting way to say "we failed." Prime Minister's Netanyahu's office, as well as that of the current Foreign Minister issued statements and took action all too little, too late. Soon, they too may be unable to land, as happened to Gen. (ret.) Doron Almog who did not deplane. The Israeli Ambassador to the UK embarked the plane, and Gen. Almog stayed on, returning home not leaving the aircraft. Hopefully he enjoyed the service and the frequent flyer miles.
The danger is becoming more and more visible. We get closer to a cliff, and we do not truly realize the depth of the abyss. Israel must start acting. Minister Ben Eliezer's admission is a first step in the right direction. If the realization, encapsulated in his statements, will not translate to immediate actions, Israel will remain at great peril and will suffer greatly.
Our enemies, he surmises, constantly act. We both realize the time has almost run out. I offered to be of service, but such a gesture is unheard of and thus unacceptable. Israeli politicians much like the population at large is, to paraphrase Minister Ben Eliezer, too smart, too accomplished, too successful. Everyone is set in their ways, concerned usually with personal gains and comforts of the moment rather than medium range and long term planning. National considerations are often secondary to everything else.
Thus the knowledge and ability that are present in Israel are stuck at a roadblock. Where is Machsom (Roadblock) Watch to come and tell us how to better enable free and fast movement? They are needed now with their wisdom and sharp criticism, calls to action and personal example of leadership. Israel is drowning and the self-anointed lifeguards are busy with the enemies' welfare first.
Minister Ben Eliezer explains that most do not understand the local mentality. He gives two examples: President Mubarak of Egypt refused to meet Netanyahu, until he called and arranged the meeting. He also recently visited Turkey and met with the Vice Prime Minister. The President, he says proudly, walked him to the car seeing him off.
Without a doubt, Minister Ben Eliezer who has fulfilled so many top government positions indeed knows his people and his neighbors. Life has been good to him. He does not travel far nowadays, nor does he take good care of his own health. He admits it indirectly (and it is readily visible). Likewise, he states straightforwardly Israel's need to improve her failing health (visible to the outside as the failure in Public Diplomacy), but here too he does little. Lack of action may result in a heart attack or stroke, or his country may be a victim.
We did not discuss Israel's "problem of 43 years, The Occupation," as he called it. I would have politely, although firmly, have disagreed with his assessment but chose not to react. Israel's problem today, we both realize, is that she is a country at war, yet she is in denial.
Israel may be reacting sporadically and quite intermittently to the increasing attacks on her, a Goldstone Report here, a EU decision regarding Jerusalem there, a legal action against the head of Opposition today and something new planned for tomorrow. But there are symptoms that say, "Be warned, an impeding cardiac arrest is just around the corner, a massive stroke is imminent unless you change your lifestyle." We do not listen for we are preoccupied with a notion of a demographic risk to her democracy, to the plight of the eternal refugees or to some other clever nonsense. We are busy elsewhere and ignore the obvious signs of failing health.
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