Education Minister Naftali Bennett attacked the country's Foreign Ministry employees on Friday, questioning whether they had "problematic DNA" and hinting that they were unpatriotic. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also holds the Foreign Ministry portfolio, rejected Bennett's remarks.
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Bennett's broadside, which came during a radio interview on Friday morning, was apparently sparked by the activities of former Foreign Ministry director general Alon Liel. According to media reports, Liel is active in promoting an international boycott of Israel, as a means of bringing an end to the occupation.
"I'm beginning to think that maybe there's a problem with the DNA of the Foreign Ministry," Bennett said. "There are continual complaints about the Foreign Ministry. With people like Alon Liel, who has been with the ministry enough time, there's a deep problem.
"People ask 'where's the hasbara [public relations]'? Which hasbara? When the #1 pyromaniac is heading the system, then what hasbara? He'll explain Israel? Who can promise me he didn't do such things during his tenure?"
Bennett said that Liel, who had been responsible for Israel foreign relations, was now making an effort to isolate Israel. "And after all that, they shout that Israel is alone in the world," he said.
While the government gears up against BDS, the movement promoting sanctions and boycotts of Israel, a significant portion of BDS' efforts come from Israel, Bennett said.
"It concerns me greatly that the person who was responsible for maintaining Israel's position in the world, does everything he can to harm that position when he's not in office," Bennett said.
Bennett's comments caused great anger among Israel's diplomats, who said they were an attempt by Bennett to delegitimize a large group of public servants working on Israel's behalf in Israel and around the world.
Prime Minister Netanyahu defended the ministry, rejecting Bennett's remarks and saying that "Alon Liel's grave statements should not be seen as indicative of the entire Foreign Ministry staff, which is dutifully serving the state and upholding the government's policy," the prime minister said in a statement.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said she "doesn't accept" Bennett's statement about there being a problem with the DNA of Foreign Ministry workers.
"Alon Liel and his partners are exceptions that do not prove the rule," she said. "The employees of the Foreign Ministry, with whom I work every day, are ethical people who serve the state honorably – unlike those who have decided to turn their backs on the country and act against it."