Israel Training Diplomats to Defend Settlements Is Nothing New

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely boasts that she has initiated a new course exposing them to right-wing views and Jewish content. Current and former diplomats say otherwise.

Tomer Appelbaum

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) boasted to the media on Sunday of reforms she claims to have initiated in the training of the ministry’s diplomatic cadets which involve exposing them to lecturers with right-wing opinions, visits to settlements and lessons in Judaism. Conversations with young diplomats who finished their training a few years ago or with veterans who have been in the foreign ministry for over 30 years, however, reveal that in contrast to what Hotovely believes, she was not the first to institute these steps.

In fact, former Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon enacted similar measures in February 2011, uttering almost identical phrases in the Knesset as she did in interviews to various radio stations and to the Yisrael Hayom daily newspaper on Sunday. Ayalon announced then that cadets and ambassador trainees would visit the Tombs of the Patriarchs in Hebron, receiving instruction from Jewish settlers in Hebron.

“I view this as part of the education of Israeli representatives around the world, in order, among other reasons, to prevent apologetic stances in describing the situation, clarifying that we’re in Hebron, Judea and Samaria by right, not as a result of force,” Ayalon then told the news website YNET. 

Several senior foreign ministry officials told Haaretz that Ayalon too had not been the first to instigate such measures. Cadet courses have always included Jewish content, visits to settlements, meetings with the leaders of the Yesha (Judea and Samaria) Council, visits to the Tombs of the Patriarchs and to the Jewish community in Hebron, to East Jerusalem and Silwan, as well as trips to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount.

The fact that Hotovely hasn’t made any significant changes is obvious when reading the ministry’s official Facebook page, designed two years ago for its cadets. A post from May 13, 2014 on this page shows a photo of some hills in Samaria, accompanied by statements saying : “Judea, Samaria, Civil Administration, the government coordinator’s office, Eli, Beit-El, Peace Now - getting at core issues of the conflict – interesting, challenging and mainly, complex."

In the official blog of the cadet course at the foreign ministry, in which cadets relate their experiences, there is an entry from May 23 2012, in which a cadet tells of the group's visit to the Temple Mount, providing photos as well. The cadets were guided by the head of the police force stationed there, who let them into the Al-Aqsa Mosque and into the site known as King Solomon’s stables.

A senior diplomat said that that particular class of cadets met Dani Dayan, then head of the Yesha Council, at a café in the settlement of Barkan. Dayan met other cadets at a winery in the settlement of Psagot. Dayan has lectured in courses held by the foreign ministry for senior diplomats that are about to become ambassadors

Gil Lainer, who served until recently as the consul for public affairs at the Israeli consulate in New York and who is now the Israel Institute of Technology’s spokesman, wrote on his Facebook page this morning that Hotovely’s claims of enacting a reform in the cadet course content are only spin. “If I remember correctly, the course I attended included lessons in Judaism and even an entire weekend devoted to the topic,” he wrote. “There were tours beyond the Green Line [the pre-1967 borders of Israel], meetings with right-wing people and even – wow – with Israeli Arabs (don’t tell anyone), as well as, obviously, tours of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. This, by the way, was in 1998.” Israel’s former ambassador to Angola Irit Savyon Vidergoren posted in response that her course in 1992 had been the same.

The internal Facebook group at the foreign ministry had many responses as well. A senior serving diplomat said that her course in 1972 included weekends in the Etzion Bloc, much Jewish content and even, for men, practicing going up to read the Torah at a synagogue.

A Facebook posting from the cadet course on March 1 told of a Jewish-themed weekend held in Jerusalem. “Good morning, we’re starting a new week after the Jewish-content weekend we had together in Jerusalem,” it says. “We learned there about the significance of the weekly Torah portion, we had a lecture on prayer and the prayer book, we had a tour relating to different sectors in contemporary Judaism and we visited several synagogues. After Kiddush we toured Haredi neighborhoods and had a meal there. On Saturday morning we learned about customs and values, the Jewish book shelf and about different sectors in Judaism. We are expected to apply this to our mission overseas when we get there.”

A senior diplomat at the foreign ministry said that the cadet course was never intended to have an ideological educational aspect but to provide practical and theoretical training for contending with the diplomatic and informational challenges facing Israel that these diplomats will have to deal with. “Zionism and love of Israel have been a central part in training cadets for many years, and this is expected of them when they arrive. Such issues are already addressed when they are selected," he said. "We don’t need political directives to guide us in these matters.”