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Why I had to leave Israel's Foreign Ministry

As a former Israeli ambassador, I never expected just how badly the country’s situation would deteriorate.

By Ilan Baruch

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. (GPO file photo by Haim Zach)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. (GPO file photo by Haim Zach)

It has been five years since I breathed a sigh of relief and left Israel’s Foreign Ministry building. No more would I represent the Netanyahu government’s hasbara as a diplomat and attorney. In my farewell letter to the Ministry I wrote: “The government leaders have endorsed policies that outrage me… I have a hard time explaining them honestly.” I did not expect that after five years, over the course of which we faced two wars and two elections, Israel’s situation would deteriorate beyond recognition.

Not only did the prime minister ridicule his constituents and the world in his famous Bar Ilan speech: the vision of “two states for two people” was never really on his agenda. Netanyahu is pushing Israeli democracy to the brink. Equality, freedom of speech, and human dignity — the cornerstones of any democracy — are not part of Netanyahu or his ministers’ agenda. This is the most right-wing government in the country’s history, which has no qualms about taking tactical and strategic steps in the media, education, and culture in order to ensure Netanyahu’s permanent rule. To do that, the government sows racist divisions, silences, fear-mongers, slanders and preaches hatred for the Other — be they Arab citizens of Israel, Palestinians, African refugees, or human rights activists.

I also wrote: “The paternalistic image of Israel as the front in a global intercultural and inter-religious confrontation is dangerous in my opinion. Viewing the international community’s opposition to the occupation as anti-Semitic is simplistic, naive, and superficial… experience shows that this current will not change until we settle our relations with the Palestinians.” Half a decade later and the Netanyahu government has only strengthened the connection between disproportional verbal and physical violence on the one hand, and cynical hasbara messaging and fear-mongering propaganda mixed with false narratives on the other.

We need a new initiative

And now what? Seventy years have passed since the end of the Second World War and the Holocaust, since Western powers recognized Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, and gave their word to ensure it would remain secure and flourish. German reparations for the Holocaust, French aid in establishing the nuclear plant in Dimona, strategic backing from the United States are underpinned by a moral imperative: atonement for abandoning the Jewish people during the Holocaust. Those who survived are dying, and our post-Holocaust immunity is slowly disappearing. Auschwitz-Birkenau is turning from a death camp into a monument — from hell on earth into a narrative of hell.

The West sees the future of the Jewish people as tied to its unequivocal opposition to denying the Palestinians the right to establish a sovereign state on its land, with peaceful, secure relations between Israel and Palestine. The West maintains its opposition to the occupation, which is viewed as foolish from a political/security standpoint, as well as moral injustice. After half a century, the apartheid of occupation is boiling over into Israel.

Construction continues on the West Bank Israeli settlement Har Gilo and the separation wall, Nov. 13, 2010. (Activestills.org)

Construction continues on the West Bank Israeli settlement Har Gilo and the separation wall, Nov. 13, 2010. (Activestills.org)

We must recognize the fact that the 21st century encompasses the West’s fading axiomatic commitment to the Jewish people’s security and flourishing in its homeland. Meanwhile, the Middle East is quickly falling apart. Israel and the Jewish people must take advantage of the limited time available to ensure that Israel becomes a sustainable, democratic state. Otherwise, we will have abdicated our moral goal. Jerusalem under a right-wing government is a failure. Without a historic reconciliation with the Palestinians, its existential immunity will be shrouded in doubt. Without a political resolution based on mutual recognition of a peace deal, there is no chance for a reconciliation that will guarantee our existence.

Thus, we must come up with a new political initiative that will fundamentally alter the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians in order to ensure our security and welfare alongside an independent Palestine. Western powers must formulate a new paradigm, in accordance with the security guarantees that the U.S., Germany, and Western Europe give Israel, and which will apply to the Palestinian state in accordance with the motto of “two states for two peoples.”

Ilan Baruch is the chairman of the Peace NGOs Forum and the former Ambassador of Israel to South AfricaThis article first appeared in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    1. Ginger Eis

      Truth Matters!

      “Dear Mr. Levy:

      Not long ago, during the tenure of the current government, Ilan Baruch presented his candidacy for the position of ambassador to Egypt. Only after another candidate was chosen over him, only after he understood that in the few remaining years until he reaches retirement he is stuck in a professional dead end, only after he completed negotiations over the terms of his retirement, only after all these things, was Baruch suddenly overcome by audacity and ideological heroism.

      These facts were known to all those interested in truth as opposed to propaganda. Nevertheless, from the moment Baruch’s resignation letter was published, it was clear to me that in short order it would become a goldmine in the hands of anti-Israel propagandists both in Israel and abroad. I am convinced that Baruch also knew this. He knew that despite the fact that he explicitly said that Israel is not an apartheid state, that his letter would nevertheless be exploited by those who poison the atmosphere by smearing Israel as an apartheid state. But Baruch is not the subject of this letter. He will have to do his own personal reckoning.

      Indeed I was not surprised. Pavlov would have enjoyed seeing how his theory works. Baruch’s fingertips were barely off the “enter” key when your article appeared, describing him as a patriot, brave and honest. If only you could have been satisfied with words of praise, I would have chuckled and moved on, but of course you did not stop there. In order to magnify and heap onto what Baruch did, you had to smear me.

      In your fraudulent writing you call me a spineless propagandist void of values or a conscience, swollen with self-importance and other disgraceful names. All this, without even knowing me. I checked, and my chances of winning in a libel suit against you are negligible. Israeli democracy, which you vilify, grants you with a thick protective blanket of freedom of expression. My trampled personal and professional honor is secondary to your right to smear me. Looking objectively , in order to protect the supreme value of the freedom of expression, it must be this way, but it pains me that in the name of this lofty value I need to absorb the garbage that you manufacture and all that I can do is vent my anger and pain. You also reveal a basic lack of understanding or ignorance concerning the way in which I am to work: if I have criticism of a government policy, and sometimes I most certainly do, I need to make it heard by those who sent me. If I don’t do this I am betraying my position. If I do this in public, and not through the proper private work channels, then I am also betraying my position. Without any substantiation, you quickly conclude that I am silent.

      Your hateful column was translated (of course) into Spanish and published (no surpise) in Publico, a newspaper which is the definition of anti-Israel. Spain, which knows how to protect its democracy, outlawed all parties which maintain any ties to the Basque underground ETA and banned their participation in elections. But when we request to distance from our Knesset those who openly identify with Hamas, the criticism against us rages. One of the stable arguments of these critics in this context, as well as others, is “but Gideon Levy of Ha’aretz also wrote it.” For some time, you, Mr. Levy, have been an asset and useful tool in the hands of those who are not satisfied with legitimate criticism of government position and activities, but rather object to the existence of Israel as a nation of the Jewish people. You also make a nice living from this. They translate you, invite you to lecture, knowing full well that you’ll supply the goods, you and a few other Israeli “stars,” whose names I shall not mention. You all spread your venom around the world and became the darlings of the BDS campaign,

      It is especially galling that you call yourself a dissident, a word that generally is associated with detention camps, torture, and excommunication. In contrast, you are a sought after guest in Western sitting rooms and among the knights of a particular political agenda – dissident in the first degree, with traveling reimbursements and expenses – and yet you dare to write that I am inflated with self-importance. You are a shining example of projection.

      Because you smeared my name in the newspaper I do not intend to keep this letter between us, but rather I plan to disseminate it as much as possible. For whatever its worth, among those who buy your propaganda, this will only increase your stock. I wish you well.

      Rafi Shotz

      Israeli Ambassador to Spain

      Madrid March 30, 2011”


      Reply to Comment
      • Daniel

        Israel’s anti-democrats singing to their choir …

        “In recent weeks various unelected forces have conspired to scuttle two senior governmental appointments.

        In the first case, retired far left Foreign Ministry officials sabotaged the government’s appointment of Dani Dayan to serve as Israel’s ambassador to Brazil.Alon Liel, a former director general of the Foreign Ministry and former ambassadors Ilan Baruch and Eli Bar Navi met with the Brazilian ambassadors to Israel and the Palestinian Authority and petitioned the Brazilian government to reject Dayan’s appointment. Like the government that appointed him, Dayan does not support these former officials’ goal of surrendering full control over eastern, southern and northern Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. His position made him a target for Liel and his colleagues.

        In an interview with Army Radio Monday, Liel bragged that he’s been working for years to undermine the government’s ability to determine Israel’s foreign policy. Liel explained that as he and his friends see things, since the public doesn’t agree with them, Israeli democracy is illegitimate, and it is therefore legitimate for them to subvert it.

        In his words, “I don’t expect my camp to control the government. If I thought my camp could win an election I would work within the Israeli system. My ideology won’t be able to win an election for the foreseeable future.” http://carolineglick.com/israels-democratic-crisis/

        Reply to Comment
        • SkyHawk

          Ilan Baruch in his own word “is the chairman of the Peace NGOs Forum”. The Danny Dayan episode is their major “achievement” so far against the State and the People of Israel. He is here preaching to his choir indeed. I wonder though if he is democratic and transparent enough to publish the list of his exclusively foreign donors/paymasters.

          Reply to Comment
    2. carmen

      +972 Blog
      Published June 16, 2015
      Occupation is the problem, not the people talking about it

      Israel’s Foreign Ministry is going after Israeli human rights and anti-occupation activists overseas. Doing so will only make things worse for Israel.
      By Ilan Baruch

      Ginger posted the same letter by Shotz to Gideon Levy on this post from June 2015 too. Seems like sour grapes in the hands of someone who writes the pithy “Truth Matters!” Obviously the truth always matter. However, the OPINIONS of Shotz or Gideon Levy are hardly written in stone and are opinion. The fact that Gideon Levy is an awesome, well-respected human rights advocate and defender of Palestine is obviously a difficult TRUTH for the zionist enterprise.

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        Gideon Levy is an idiot. We tolerate idiots. Britain and Uncle Sam executed and jailed (respectively) their idiots at the end of WW2. I guess they were less tolerant than us.

        Anyone interested can google and read all about…

        Lord Haw Haw and Tokyo Rose. Maybe put in the key-word WW2 too.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Marianna Tsvitov

      Amazing piece. Thank you!

      Reply to Comment