On meeting Israeli officials to discuss world antisemitism uptick

Israeli diplomats are interested in learning from experts on antisemitism, but MKs seem to think they know all there is to know. Op-ed.

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld ,

antisemitism in Poland
antisemitism in Poland
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Occasionaly I am asked whether I have had contact with ministries in Israel to explain various aspects of antisemitism and suggest courses of action. I have tried to do so quite a number of times. Overall, this has been an extremely disappointing effort and largely a waste of time.

The same is true concerning meetings with Knesset members. Their overall understanding of antisemitism has always been very limited.

A Knesset member who familiarizes himself with the field can stand out in the public debate with detailed observations and suggestions. This would also give that Knesset member a public identity. I have never
A Knesset member who familiarizes himself with the field can stand out in the public debate with detailed observations and suggestions.
identified such an MK.

In a previous Knesset, I was once invited by the secretary of an MK to come to listen to a session where he and another MK would explain their views on antisemitism. From what they had said in the past, I knew that their understanding was a fragment of mine. I instead suggested a one on one meeting to discuss what the MK could practically do about antisemitism. The secretary responded that she would get back to me to set up such a meeting. That never materialized and the two MK’s are no longer members of the Knesset.

When I read that an opposition MK had suffered from an antisemitic incident abroad, I asked a friend who knew her to arrange a meeting between us. As she belonged to the opposition, she was free to say whatever she wanted and thus could be an excellent candidate to address the issue in the Knesset.

Her secretary fixed a date for two months later. A few hours before, the scheduled meeting, she called to say that the MK was held up in a meeting, and we would have to reschedule. After a number of calls in vain to reschedule the meeting, I gave up. It turned out to be a good decision as this MK did not win an eligible place on her party's list in the following election.

Another place where antisemitism is sometimes discussed is the aliyah committee of the Knesset. The procedure is simple. MK’s who attend have a priority to speak. They usually come in for a few minutes only. Most of those I heard had no understanding at all of the antisemitism issue. After that there is a ranking of organizations whose representatives receive two or three minutes to make a point. By the time my turn came there were no MK’s present and a substantial number of the initial attendants had left. This is not a very good use of these several hours as well as the time I spent waiting to be admitted to the Knesset building.

Three ministries deal with antisemitism. In one, I met the person in charge a number of times. He said that he would invite me to speak to the entire staff. That invitation never arrived.

I also approached the director general of a second ministry. She preferred having a telephone conversation on the subject. We spoke for some time. In conclusion she said she would invite me for a presentation to the staff of the ministry. This was another invitation that never materialized.

In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, meetings with top people varied over the years. The ministry is in charge of the Global Forum of Antisemitism, which takes place in principle every two years. Sometimes it is delayed for a year. My suggestions were never used. One director general of the ministry circulated articles I sent to him. He always wrote back that he had passed them on to the officials concerned. I never received a reaction from them.

Another director general received me very respectfully. He said that he read my articles with great interest. When I listed the actions I considered necessary for the ministry to take, he said that I had to understand that they were essentially people of field work. It left me perplexed. One can claim this for the people in diplomatic representations abroad. Yet how can a person at the top of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs ignore that his position requires strategic capabilities and positions?

Israeli embassies are a different issue. Sometimes diplomats have concrete problems in the country where they represent Israel. If they are inclined to be activists, they appreciate material, which helps them understand problems. An embassy official once asked me to write a critical article about a country their mission was responsible for. He said they would provide me with the necessary material. Some of the data they provided was helpful and I could complete it with other sources I had easy access to. The article was a great success. The minister of foreign affairs of that country had to go on TV to explain his policies towards Israel. That, however, was the rare exception.

All in all, contact with Israeli government officials is not a very productive use of my time. Some people have said that if I had asked for payment -- instead of volunteering my services -- to help the ministries I would have had more success. I doubt that. Their lack of professionalism on the antisemitism issue is structural.

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is the emeritus Chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He has been a strategic advisor for more than thirty years to some of the Western world’s leading corporations. Among the honors he received was the 2019 International Lion of Juda Award of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research paying tribute to him as the recognized leading international authority on contemporary antisemitism. His main book on the subject is: The War of a Million Cuts The struggle against the delegitimization of Israel and the Jews and the growth of New antisemitism.



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