Israel's Rhinoceros Corps Go on Strike

The work of Israeli diplomats is mostly propaganda work, which in Israel is referred to by the Hebrew word hasbara. But there are things that are not hasbarable.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Foreign ministry, closed on strike, March 24, 2014.
Foreign ministry, closed on strike, March 24, 2014.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

The country’s cosmeticians have gone out on strike, and only a very few people care that their services have been halted. True, the minister responsible for them said they were running their strike “on the backs of the elderly,” as if we were talking about social workers, but except for a single Israeli who got stuck without a passport in Thailand, and whose heartbreaking story was broadcast on Army Radio, no public disturbances were recorded. Even the cancellation of the planned trip of Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to Rome caused no damage, as far as is known; based on Ya’alon’s recent statements, it’s a good thing he stayed home. Even the possible cancellation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s journey to Central America seems bearable.

We are of course talking about the strike by the employees of the Foreign Ministry. It is possible they actually are discriminated against in their salary conditions, and that their strike is one of the most justifiable. But the strike is what has actually exposed once again the character of their work, which in recent days has been crowned with empty glory. The work of the army of Israeli diplomats, a chorus of ambassadors, is mostly propaganda work, which in Israel is referred to by the Hebrew word hasbara. But there are things that are not hasbarable, a term invented by one of them, the late ambassador Yohanan Meroz. Israel’s ambassadors have a wealth of such issues that meet that definition.

The Israel of 2014 is impossible to explain. The continuation of the occupation, the refusal to put an end to it, the continued building in the settlements and the obstinacy over the recognition of it as a Jewish state — is impossible to explain. The almost daily war crimes, the senseless killing, the discrimination against minorities, the behavior toward the African asylum seekers, the nationalism and the anti-democratic legislation — no diplomat, no matter how talented and polished, can explain all this.

In futility, Israeli diplomats are trying to do so. Some certainly identify with the government’s positions that they represent, some even believe in the cynical, twisted path of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, but there are also other diplomats who think differently and believe in other things — and they are, in Hebrew slang, turning into rhinoceroses — in other words, following the herd. Sometimes they even busy themselves with work that reminds one of dark regimes: At least twice in recent years diplomats were sent to monitor my speeches abroad. In Florence they made due with sending a report to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, which was later leaked intentionally to Israel Radio, claiming I was causing damage to the country. A few weeks ago in Helsinki they even tried to meet with a Jordanian-Palestinian intellectual who appeared with me so they could explain to him “who we’re talking about.” But these of course are trifles.

The main point is that Israeli diplomats are not really able to carry out their tasks. Not (only) because of their salary and conditions, but first and foremost because of their work environment. And they are not complaining about that. They are remaining silent about that. About the damage Israel is causing itself, with its own hands and policies, even the best of the diplomats cannot hide.

It is nice to present Israel as “gay-friendly,” but when Israel remains silent about the persecution of gays in Uganda and Ethiopia because of its interests, no gay pride parade in Tel Aviv can be convincing. It is nice to present Israel as a high-tech nation and even take pride in the invention of drip irrigation, but the reports about what it is doing to the Palestinian people trickle down much more copiously, and no one can explain them. The world will feel supportive of Israel only when it becomes “Palestinian-friendly.”

The diplomats know all this. They chose their jobs and certainly are convinced they are serving their country in distorting the truth and covering up its sins, but it is hard to identify with them in their fight over their wages. After all, it is possible to live for a time even without cosmetics, especially when they don’t succeed in covering up one’s true face.

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