Shah! The self imposed silence of Israel's diplomats

Susie Dym,

לבן ריק
לבן ריק
צילום: ערוץ 7
Susie Dym
Susie Dym serves as spokesperson for Mattot Arim, with over 20 years of expertise on "peace-for-peace" issues.

Shhhh - The self imposed silence of the  Israel's diplomats...

People the world over do listen, actually. They listen to radio and TV shows -- where Israeli diplomats are interviewed quite often.

Unfortunately however, some of Israel’s diplomats talk about everything under the sun except for what they SHOULD be talking about. On radio and on TV  -- Israeli diplomats are interviewed frequently and are explicitly asked or accused many times about the legality of “the settlements”. Far too often, the Israeli diplomats simply duck the question and change the subject.

Israel’s enemies are not so reticent. In 2004 – 12 years ago! – an international court more than implied that Israel’s settlements are illegal. From the way this court put it, one could be excused for laboring under the delusion that  the League of Nations had given this land to the Arabs. The great  Eli Hertz has produced and posted on his website a major document refuting the international court’s  po‎sition. The problem, though, is again -- that some of Israel’s diplomats talk about everything under the sun except for what they SHOULD be talking about – which is what Eli Hertz, for example, is talking about.

Strangely enough, Israeli ambassadors – even when repeatedly asked on major media outlets - radio and TV --  about the legality of the settlements, too often do not even once try to present the clear counter arguments to the illegality claim.

And equally important is defending legality of Israeli communities in Judea-Samaria --  in the world’s newspapers. Many a time articles and letters penned by   members of Israel’s diplomatic corp (usually the press attache or ambassador) appear even in the least friendly media such as the UK’s Guardian and Independent. Not once, pro-Israel observers complain, have many of these civil servants ever mentioned the myriad counter-arguments to the purported illegality of settlements. People do after all read newspapers... so this hiding of the diplomatic head in the sand is no way to defend Israel’s good name.

The problem, again, and again,  is this: some of Israel’s diplomats talk about everything under the sun except for what they SHOULD be talking about. About the most central accusation against Israel – they are silent. There is a fundamental rule that there must be a correlation between the main criticism leveled at you (at Israel in this case) and the defense that you give (of Israel). Since the focus of the criticism of Israel is the illegality of the settlements, that should feature in our defense. As the Jewish sages of old pointed out, “silence implies acquiescence”!

Fundamentally there are many reasons why silence is a bad tactic. The self-imposed silence of the Israeli diplomats has vastly increased the number of people in the world who give credence to the allegations that the settlements are illegal. Israeli Hasbara is based – going back to about 1993 -- only on Israel being a democracy, being good in science and music, having beaches and tourism, with beautiful girls on the beaches, help and teaching other countries in the fields of medicine, agriculture, urban planning and so on – all this is totally irrelevant to the main criticism being hurled at Israel today.

It is amazing: those who allege settlements to be illegal point – ho hum – to article 49(6) of the 4th Geneva Convention about an occupying power not being allowed to forcibly transfer its population  into a territory it occupies. But to invoke this argument in Israel’s context is the greatest possible absurdity and irrelevance. The distinguished expert in international law, the late Prof. Julius Stone, who wrote famed basic textbooks on international law, also authored a treatise  which completely refutes the Article 49(6) argument from many points of view. And Stone’s writings  use strong language: Stone wrote that to enlist article 49(6) in the context of this sort of allegation against Israel is a “gross travesty” which constitutes “turning international law on its head”. 

Nor was Stone the only luminary to endorse the legality of Jewish settlement in Judea-Samaria (and elsewhere of course). So did the great Prof. Eugene Rostow. Who was Rostow? Well – remember the wildly popular Alistaire Cooke? Cooke was the host of Masterpiece Theatre, the showcase of quality British television, for 22 years (!). He was given the honor of addressing the joint Houses of the United States Congress at the USA’s moving bicentennial celebrations. In England, he was awarded an honorary knighthood. His was the longest-running speech radio show in history – 58 years!

And this Alistaire Cook paid homage on the occasion of Prof. Eugene Rostow's death,  saying that Eugene Rostow was the greatest scholar of international law in the 20th century. Cooke knew Rostow first-hand, because they had been together at Yale.

In contrast, Israel’s accusers have no comparable heavyweights in international law rallying around their po‎sition – which is a great point in Israel’s favor. But again -- why is no Israeli diplomat pointing this out? Again – it’s because many of Israel’s diplomats talk about everything under the sun except for what they SHOULD be talking about.

The  ‘silence of diplomats’ may have become the modus vivendi when Shimon Peres became foreign minister. Many believe that Peres, due to his slavish attachment to the Oslo accords, completely emasculated Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs -- from which this ministry never recovered, to this day. Shimon Peres always tended to think that Hasbara and History have no value whatsoever -- that the only thing that matters is to be liberal toward the Arabs. Ever since Peres was Foreign Minister, ‘a friend brings a friend’ as the Israeli saying goes, and Israel’s Foreign ministry is still populated to no small extent, by persons of Peres’s bent. One blatant example has been Dr Alon Liel who, amazingly, was Director General of the MFA. Rather than standing up for Israel even after leaving the service, as he should have, he actually takes pride in using his foreign contacts to apply public pressure to Israel!

On the Hebrew internet version of Ha’aretz, there are, every day, strongly anti-settlement articles and editorials, which present the settlers like enemies, or criminals, or both.   To hell with Israel’s image abroad. And Israel’s diplomats humbly tag along.

Again, the self-imposed silence of the diplomats on this subject is despite the fact that  Israel’s diplomats cannot complain of not being invited to say their piece in world-renowned newspapers like the Guardian, Times and the Daily Telegraph. They are invited -- in addition to ample radio and TV exposure. It is not that the diplomats are not being allowed to have a say.

It is most crucially important for Israel’s diplomats to begin to utter the”legality facts” on Radio and TV as most people listen to these media. 

 The same omissions occurred, until recently, for other crucial topics as well -- such as Jewish refugees from Arab countries, which until fairly recently was hardly mentioned by Israel’s diplomatic corps – while Israel’s enemies had a field day belaboring the issue of the Palestinian emigrees  --  I mean, refugees.

A pro-Israel gathering was recently held in Canada -- commemorating the late Salomon Benzimra,  Co-Founder of Canadians for Israel’s Legal Rights, and author of The Jewish People’s Rights to the Land of Israel. These friends of Israel gathered to urge us here in Israel, under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu, to proclaim the Jewish people’s legal rights from the Jordan to the Mediterranean. Only once these rights are within the awareness of world leaders, the Canadian group insisted, can negotiations reasonably follow. And in any ensuing conference, if these legal facts are rejected, that is an  opportune moment — in presence of main stream media and world leaders  — for Israelis simply to walk out.  Those who attended the gathering were Michael Mostyn  -- CEO of B’nai Brith in Canada, Arnold Ages -- Professor Emeritus at Waterloo University, Bill Smyth -  Professor Emeritus at McMaster University, journalists Doris Epsein and Diane Bederman, Goldi Steiner, and many others.

We Israelis really must insist that our leaders and diplomatic corps exert our legal rights – yes, under international law -- here in the Land of Israel.  Friends of Israel abroad can help, by challenging Israeli po‎sition holders to do this  and by carefully documenting, for the benefit of us here (try my email address – mattot.arim  at gmail) – those Israeli public servants who cannot or will not do so.