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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