Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I am a Foot Soldier

Ari Bussel

During a recent visit to Israel, I was invited to a discharge ceremony from the IDF. Having last served as an officer during the First Persian Gulf War, I am deemed nonessential, although I still see myself as a soldier fighting on the very front line today. Like me there are numerous other foot soldiers on Israel’s Public Diplomacy front, able and willing to serve, and doing what we can against all odds. We stand against a very capable, sophisticated and motivated enemy. We constantly ask ourselves why are we fighting when many Israelis and even more Jews are aiding and abating the enemy in the war to destroy Israel. The answer is simple: We are the last line of defense. We are the last defenders of the Jewish State.

Is it not a bit presumptuous, one would ask, to assign such a grave importance to one’s own work? It is not when among an audience of 160, there are four individuals who came to counteract the attacks against Israel. It is not when across from a well-organized mob of three to five hundred demonstrators against Israel there are at most thirty of us. It is definitely not when Israel’s enemies have initiated a sophisticated scheme to penetrate the political, judicial and entertainment echelons of the United States and our homeland security apparatus and we manage to infiltrate and fight back.

We alone stand on the very front line, individuals who dare to be present, go to speak, be active on various social networks, infiltrate various organizations and express a different opinion—an unwavering support of the Jewish State.

We do so because someone needs to, but all in front have turned their heads to see whom behind them will. We almost did the same, then we saw the wave of heads turning, and we knew there was no other choice: We have been called to battle.

There is an element that should be doing the work, one would retort: the Israeli embassies and consulates around the world. Indeed, there is a huge network of state employees, appointed diplomats and support staff that can be an invaluable asset for the defense of the State of Israel, or at the very least for dissemination of information.

They, like most other bureaucracies, are reluctant to do anything outside the very narrow scope of their job descriptions. Moreover, I have yet to see them doing the job of a foot soldier. I almost always bump into them when, like generals, they arrive at gala events or other glitzy, very cozy, well prepared and orchestrated receptions, usually televised or providing a photo opportunity. You can definitely count on their presence then.

In addition to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there is a relatively new Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and Public Diplomacy, or is it Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, another would point out. Correct on that count too, I reply. They should be dismantled.

As one somewhat involved, I do not know what this Ministry does. If I hear about its activities by chance, and then only as a singular reaction to a great disaster (like the Mavi Marmara and the Turkish Flotilla of Lies), one must wonder what those uninvolved know about the work of the Ministry? Why did its international outreach not exist until hours or even days after the Mavi Marmara? Why the silence during the two weeks since?

There are a plethora of other government and non-government organizations, some taking credit as the only entity conducting Israel’s public diplomacy efforts, others truly are clueless. They, like the Ministry in charge of Public Diplomacy, should cease to exist.

A National Information Directorate exists, but apparently is not on good enough terms with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Otherwise, how can one explain a Consul General at one of the most important areas in the world promising on a Wednesday, almost three days after the Mavi Marmara premeditated lynch against Israeli soldiers, to come out “tomorrow” with a list of points that the Directorate had published two or three days earlier?

I am reminded of my service in Israel, more than two decades ago, when the person in charge of all Lone Soldiers was never outside of Israel. She had never traveled before. She did not know what it meant to be alone in a foreign country. Yet, she was in charge of all our needs, from visitation rights to phone calls, from a few extra hours to enable the soldier to run errands, withdraw money from the bank or shop before the everything closed down for Shabbat to a host family during the holidays.

She was not a bad person, she simply did not understand the difficulties and challenges, so she seemed insensitive and inconsiderate to us. She was the wrong person for the job.

Likewise today, the creation of more and more ministries whose job it is to practice public diplomacy causes friction and competition where cooperation and experience are needed. These ministries compete for attention or glory and tend to run away from responsibility.

There was a great debate, one we could not afford, about whether the IDF’s decision to withhold releasing footage for several hours after the navy commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara was appropriate. The MFA claims that Israel’s great flop was due to the IDF’s objections and hesitation.

This is not a time to look at each other and pass blame. This is the time we should all be foot soldiers fighting for Israel. Not for glory but for country, not for contacts that benefit oneself, but for those that can be utilized and mobilized on behalf of Israel. Pouring money on more bureaucracy has never worked before, why would it work in Israel? What does it achieve, other than stationery, conferences, travel and more waste?

It is time to dismantle all those government bodies and look at what the non-government bodies are doing. If indeed they are fulfilling the job descriptions of those former governmental bodies, then they should substitute the source of funds for their operations from “private” to “public” and continue operating in an official capacity.

There is one center, though, that is crucial. This is the IDF. I am not certain it is the IDF’s Spokesperson Unit, although I am confident the nerve center must be in the Defense Establishment. There must be operational oversight on what is happening in the world.

The public diplomacy front extends from China via India to Pakistan and Iran, from South Africa to Morocco and Egypt, from Scandinavia to Spain, from Canada via the USA and Central America to South America, from Australia and New Zealand to South East Asia. Information must be gathered, processed and operational directives in various forms fed right back – from facts to videos, from lessons learned in one location to apparent trends one should appraise before the storm hits one’s locality.

From within the IDF or the Defense Establishment, there must be tentacles utilizing existing organizations like the MFA and its global reach; non-profits such as Hadassah or JNF that have established, over almost a century, a network of connections to donors and supporters, past and present; the diplomatic and press corps and numerous other means and methods to disseminate information.

Defending Israel’s public image around the world must be done in a well-coordinated manner, with a clear hierarchy, with a chain of command that reports directly to the Prime Minister of Israel.

The lack of an effective and efficient organization is detrimental to Israel’s continued existence. This is war, and Israel’s Public Diplomacy Front is a process in formation.

The existence of a well-functioning Public Diplomacy network, with a plan of action and numerous alternatives that can be activated and executed in real time without a delay, with resources at its disposal (not only of monetary kind) that can be deployed, activated or otherwise utilized is indispensible if Israel is to survive.

What Israel needs at this stage is not more ministries or bodies to explain her failures or engage in a blame game. She must speak in one voice, clear and well understood, with conviction and absolute determination. To achieve this most rudimentary prerequisite, Israel must want to win; she must want to survive.

In the series “Postcards from Israel—Postcards from America,” Ari Bussel and Norma Zager invite readers to view and experience an Israel and her politics through their eyes, an Israel visitors rarely discover.

This point—and often—counter-point presentation is sprinkled with humor and sadness and attempts to tackle serious and relevant issues of the day. The series began in 2008, appears both in print in the USA and on numerous websites and is followed regularly by readership from around the world.

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