'Right' Man for the Job: Israeli Tea Party Type as National Explainer

Netanyahu's appointment of Ran Baratz shouldn't surprise anyone.

Uri Misgav
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Ran Baratz - head of Public Diplomacy and Media at the Prime Minister's Office, founder of Mida website. June 18, 2013. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Uri Misgav

Anyone who was shocked by the words of Ran Baratz, Ph. D., whom Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed to head Israel’s public diplomacy corps, doesn’t understand where he is living.

“The [Israeli] president is such a marginal figure that there’s no fear for his life,” the philosopher wrote on his Facebook page. “It seems to me you could parachute him into the Syrian Golan, which is controlled by the Islamic State; the next day, they’d return him,” Baratz jibed.

That’s how people talk today in Baratz’s reference groups. That’s the kind of humor that amuses them. Former settlement leader Daniella Weiss said something very similar recently: “Rivlin can sleep quietly; he’s not important enough for anyone to kill him.” That’s the style, that’s the spirit.

We’re not talking about wild weeds or rotten apples here. Welcome to the Israeli Tea Party.

Those who were shocked by Baratz’s appointment as the national explainer also don’t understand where they are living. Baratz is a settler from Kfar Adumim and founder of the Mida website, a source of pride on the ideological right and part of an American model that has been scrupulously reproduced.

Mida takes its holy ideological work seriously. It leaves the transparent propaganda to the daily Israel Hayom and the mockery and incitement to social media networks.

The range of topics covered is broad, the target bank is modular and updated ceaselessly: Barack Obama, Reuven Rivlin, the United Nations, the attorney general, journalist Sima Kadmon, the Israel Film Fund – anyone who, at any given moment, constitutes a hindrance to the right’s hegemony and the continued flourishing of the occupation and settlement enterprise.

Urging Netanyahu to reconsider his appointment of Baratz is anachronism at its finest. It’s fighting the last war. It also won’t make any difference. In any case, someone similar would replace him.

After all, “public diplomacy whiz” Netanyahu appointed Tzipi Hotovely, one of the darlings of Israel’s version of the Tea Party, as deputy foreign minister. Just this month, she proclaimed her dream of seeing the Israeli flag flying on the Temple Mount. She also boasted of her plan to intervene in the curriculum of the foreign service’s cadet course by tilting it rightward. Upon taking office, she instructed diplomats to start talking about the Jewish people’s divine right to its land.

The Foreign Ministry has no serving minister. Thus, as far as the world is concerned, Hotovely is the Israeli foreign minister.

Netanyahu also appointed Danny Danon, another darling of the Israeli Tea Party, as the country’s ambassador to the United Nations. International diplomats don’t care that Danon was sent to Manhattan so he’d stop harassing Netanyahu at Likud headquarters. As far as the world is concerned, Hotovely, Danon and Baratz are the face that Israel has chosen to show it.

The age of ambassadors like Prof. Itamar Rabinovich (Washington) and Prof. Gabriela Shalev (United Nations) is past. Abba Eban and Chaim Herzog likewise don’t live here anymore. At the beginning of his lengthy term of office, Netanyahu was still considering appointing a first-rate practitioner of public diplomacy like Alon Pinkas, Israel’s former consul general in New York, as ambassador to the UN. But Pinkas’ candidacy was vetoed by Netanyahu’s inner court. Today, it wouldn’t even be considered.

Anyone who urges Netanyahu to fill diplomatic and public diplomacy posts with people “of stature” simply doesn’t know his right hand from his left. The stature that Netanyahu seeks nowadays begins and ends with settler humorist Hanoch Daum, interior designer Moshik Galamin and right-wing singer Amir Benayoun.

As far as the settler right is concerned, the diplomatic and public diplomacy corps is just another platform that must be taken over. Just like the army, the Shin Bet security service, the media and academia. Baratz is an appropriate casting choice to market Israel’s current policies, and also to represent Israel’s current profile.

Anyone who fears this situation would do better to stop closing his eyes to reality or worrying about a “public diplomacy” that in any case doesn’t represent him. Darkness must be banished, not concealed or prettied up.