The Arena | Zvi Mazel

Zvi Mazel

Former Israeli ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden. Served for 39 years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in several senior positions, including head of the Israeli-African relations department. Currently a researcher in the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA), focusing on the Arab world.

What is the most significant advantage Israeli diplomacy currently enjoys?

The most significant advantage Israeli foreign policy enjoys is the extensive experience the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has accumulated since the foundation of the State of Israel. It deals both with routine diplomatic activity and countless special operations that are required given Israel's complex international position. The Ministry represents Israel in over a hundred states and in dozens of international organizations. 


The MFA has an impressive ability to present the policy of the State of Israel to foreign governments, the media, and to many civil society organizations. In addition, the unique link to the Jewish Diaspora provides Israel with unique opportunities to connect with a variety of sectors which it would otherwise have a hard time reaching.

Photo: Courtest of the author

What is the greatest disadvantage that Israeli diplomacy suffers from?

The fact that the vast potential of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is underutilized. Most embassies and other missions abroad are understaffed –a single ambassador, with only one additional diplomat assisting them. In the absence of a suitable workforce, it is impossible to fulfill the many tasks which Israeli embassies are charged with.


Furthermore, the MFA’s budget for promoting its many geopolitical, public relations, and cultural tasks is woefully insufficient. In fact, the budget is simply too small to enable any significant activity.


Compounding this bleak situation is the distribution of many of the MFA’s responsibilities to other government ministries, even though they lack experience in the field of foreign affairs. Above all, the State of Israel has never laid down a formal plan of action for the MFA to promote its goals, which remain unclear to this day. 

What do you think is the most important opportunity Israeli diplomacy currently has?

Diplomacy is a daily occupation - constantly searching and looking for opportunities and openings, and exploiting them through actions whose effect is cumulative over time. Israeli innovation representד another important opportunity, and it seems that several ministries collaborate successfully on this matter. 
On the other hand, our relations with Third World countries - and particularly with Latin America and Africa - were neglected for many years, and only recently has that started to change.


An interesting question is whether our diplomats know how to make use of the history of the Jewish People and of the Arab world to promote our interests. While it is true that opportunities must to be taken advantage of, they must also be created.

What is the central challenge and/or threat Israeli diplomacy faces?

Israel is facing several challenges and threats which require long-term, intensive and cumulative action, primarily in the field of public relations. The greatest challenge or threat is the effort of Arab and Muslim organizations, backed by Western sympathizers, to isolate Israel politically and culturally and to harm its economy. A special emphasis must be placed on these activities in the United States and Europe, where a new generation is being raised in an atmosphere promoting hatred of Israel.


The subject of anti-Semitism is integral to this issue, since Arabs and Muslims have come to understand that the defamation of Israel is a highly effective policy tool. In Europe’s anti-Semitic mindset, such defamation will always find a sympathetic audience and serve to further inflame anti-Semitism.


The Palestinian issue is directly related to our public relations problem, and we have yet to find a proper response to Palestinian propaganda. In addition, we must consider the Iranian threat, which may become existential, and which seems to be handled very well by the prime minister.


One of the first issues that must be discussed is how to handle the hundreds of foreign correspondents stationed in Israel. While they already should have come to appreciate the complexity of the reality here, some of them distort it in their coverage, which then serves as a basis for anti-Israeli incitement abroad.

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