What Does the Superfluous Diaspora Affairs Ministry Have to Do With Iran’s Nuclear Program?

Naftali Bennett should do us all a favor and close the ministry.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett heads a superfluous ministry that has tied up hundreds of millions of shekels over the past 15 years.Credit: Eyal Toueg
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

When Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman spoke before the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee last week, he presented a severe “indictment” of the way that the Israeli government runs its foreign policy. He claimed that because of Jewish infighting and the division of political plunder, there are no fewer than six different government agencies, some of them superfluous, that do work that is supposed to be under the Foreign Ministry’s purview.

One of the groups that Lieberman mentioned was the Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Ministry, which is headed by Naftali Bennett, who also serves as economy minister and religious services minister. A statement that Bennett issued to the press on Tuesday, entitled “Bennett launches public relations campaign against ‘bad deal’ with Iran,” was a perfect demonstration of how right Lieberman was.

Bennett’s statement announced the existence of an animated video in English about the Iranian nuclear project that had been produced by the Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Ministry and uploaded to YouTube. According to the statement, the purpose of the video was “to expose Iran’s true intentions in its talks with the West.”

The video is effective and entertaining, and its purpose truly is important. But what does all of that have to do with Jerusalem or the Diaspora? Well, according to the statement Bennett issued, this is the first in a series of videos to be produced by the Diaspora Affairs Ministry to explain essential issues concerning Israel to the world in general, and to the Jewish world in particular.

“This video was produced to increase awareness among world Jewry of the danger of a nuclear Iran and distinguish between a good deal and a bad deal, in addition to ongoing work [of the minister] on the issue such as talks with ambassadors and world leaders of foreign countries,” read the statement issued by Bennett’s bureau.

Public relations throughout the world? Briefings for ambassadors? Talks with foreign leaders? Iran’s nukes? To me it sounds just like the tasks for which a fairly large ministry, known as the Foreign Ministry, already exists. To tell the truth, there are several other agencies that deal with this − the Prime Minister’s Office’s national public diplomacy headquarters, the National Security Council (also under the Prime Minister’s Office), and the Strategic Affairs Ministry (a superfluous agency in itself) − and that is only a partial list.

But apparently, none of this matters when it comes to keeping a superfluous agency such as the Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Ministry in existence and wasting its budgets and public funds on public-relations videos.

I contacted Bennett about the matter. He did not agree with me that his ministry was superfluous and that he was doing things that were under the Foreign Ministry’s purview. He claimed that stopping a bad deal with Iran and pushing a good one was a task of national importance, and that as Diaspora Affairs Minister he could promote the issue.

One reason the Diaspora Affairs Ministry was established in 1999 was to give MK Michael Melchior of Meimad a job under the political pact made with then-prime minister Ehud Barak. Since then, the ministry has gone through as many as four incarnations. Natan Sharansky, Isaac Herzog, Yuli Edelstein and now Naftali Bennett were the ministers in charge of it, hundreds of millions of shekels were funneled to it over the past 15 years − and all of this for what? Not very much.

It would be a good thing if Bennett, who holds the position of economy minister, were to take the initiative, do us all a favor and announce the closure of the Diaspora Affairs Ministry. It will never be missed. Its budgets could be used for other matters such as improving the economy, for example. If Bennett is so interested in public relations and conversations with ambassadors about the Iranian nuclear program, he should ask to be foreign minister in the next coalition.

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