Our World: Dani Dayan and the challenge to Israeli democracy
Why Dani Dayan’s appointment is a test case.
Originally published by the Jerusalem Post.
Today Israel’s bilateral relations with Brazil are moving toward a full-blown crisis. If the government doesn’t address the causes of the crisis, going forward it will find itself unable to competently advance Israel’s interests in the international community.
Brazil has the ninth largest economy in the world and is a rapidly growing market for Israeli exports.
Israel’s bilateral trade with Brazil expanded nearly 60 percent between 2009 and 2013. Israeli exports comprise two-thirds of the overall trade.
Economics isn’t the only reason that Brazil and Israel have important joint interests. According to Alberto Nisman, the slain Argentinean prosecutor who investigated the Iranian bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994, Brazil serves as a major hub for Iranian and Hezbollah activities in Latin America.
Given Brazil’s importance as a market and as a defense partner, Israel needs a serious ambassador posted to Brasilia capable of advancing relations. In Dani Dayan, Israel has such a representative.
Dayan is a native of Argentina. He knows Latin America better than career diplomats.
Dayan was an early hi-tech entrepreneur. He led his company, Elad Systems for 23 years, building it from a small information technology firm into a 500-employee company with an annual revenue stream of NIS100 million. Given his business background, Dayan’s ability to promote Israeli-Brazilian trade is self-evident.
Dayan is a political pragmatist. When he served as the leader of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, he made it his goal to demonstrate to the wider public that the communities are an integral part of Israel. As the council’s representative to the international community, Dayan worked tirelessly to combat the delegitimization of Israel as a whole and of the Israeli communities in the areas. In a sphere where Israel has precious little to show for its efforts, Dayan’s public diplomacy efforts stood out.
In light of this, when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu appointed Dayan to serve as Israel’s ambassador to Brazil in August, the appointment was not seen as controversial. Rather it was widely viewed as a sign that Netanyahu is keen to expand Israel’s bilateral ties with Brazil and more generally, that Israel is interested in seriously advancing its ties to Latin America.
This apparently was bad news for the EU- and US-financed radical Left. For many years radical leftists have made no effort to hide their interest in maintaining and expanding Israel’s international and economic weakness. As they see it, the stronger Israel is, the less vulnerable it will be to foreign pressure to make further concessions to the PLO.
And so, after the government approved Dayan’s appointment, fringe leftists associated with EU- and US-funded political NGOs set out to scuttle the appointment.
In September, three former ambassadors associated with the EU- and US-funded radical Left lobbied the Brazilian government through the Brazilian embassy in Tel Aviv, asking it to reject Dayan’s appointment.
Alon Liel is the former director-general of the Foreign Ministry. Today he serves on the board of three political NGOs – Sikkuy, Ir Amim and B’Tselem – that are all funded by European governments.
Sikkuy and B’Tselem are also funded by the US government.
Eli Barnavi, who is a member of the post-Zionist Meretz party and Peace Now, was one of the founders of the European Jewish pro-Palestinian lobby JCall. He is the former director of the European Museum in Brussels, and a member of the scientific committee of the museum. Barnavi served as ambassador to Paris during the Barak government.
Ilan Baruch, long the most outspoken radical leftist in the foreign ministry, served in various positions in the peace talks with the PLO and went on to serve as ambassador to the Philippines and South Africa. Baruch left the Foreign Ministry under a cloud of controversy in 2011 when he denounced the government and said that he could not represent it.
Baruch serves as foreign policy adviser to Zehava Galon, the head of the post-Zionist Meretz Party.
He hosts a radio show on the Swedish and Norwegian government-funded All for Peace radio station, which is run through Ramallah. Baruch is also associated with the EU-supported think tank Mitviim.
In September, Liel, Barnavi and Baruch met with the Brazilian ambassador and urged his government to refuse to accept Dayan’s appointment. As they saw it, accepting his posting to Brasilia would be tantamount to supporting Israel’s control over Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem.
Their action transformed Dayan’s appointment from an Israeli statement of commitment to expanding bilateral ties with Brazil into a political hot potato in Brazil’s domestic politics. Ever since the men intervened, the Brazilian government has refused to accept Dayan’s appointment. As a result, Israel’s bilateral relations with the largest country in Latin America are now on the verge of a full-blown crisis.
For three months the government tried to use quiet diplomacy to convince Brazil to accept Dayan’s appointment. But last week the government concluded that a public clash is unavoidable. As Dayan noted in a media interview Saturday night, the issue at hand is far greater than whether he will get to move into the ambassador’s residence in Brasilia or not.
If the move initiated by Liel, Baruch and Barnavi succeeds, then that will mean that there is an effective diplomatic boycott of all non-leftist Israelis. Any Israeli considering a diplomatic career or posting from now on will need to avoid making any statement in support of Israeli power beyond the 1949 armistice lines – that is, any statement in support of the policies of the elected government of Israel – lest they find themselves in Dayan’s shoes, with the host government unwilling to approve their postings.
The success of these three otherwise marginal actors – who all work with EU-funded organizations – in undermining Israel’s ability to carry out diplomacy shows just how critical it is for the Knesset to pass Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s new NGO bill, and if possible expand its scope when it is discussed in the Knesset Law Committee.
Shaked’s bill requires political NGOs that receive more than half of their funding from foreign governments to identify themselves as foreign agents. This is important because, as the Dayan appointment shows clearly, in their work these groups – and their members – seek to weaken Israeli democracy by subverting the policies of the elected government.
But Dayan’s still unaccepted appointment to Brazil also shows that Shaked’s bill is not sufficiently strong.
Not only should the Knesset’s Law Committee expand its scope by including the bill’s restrictions on all political NGOs that receive foreign governmental funding.
It should also deny non-profit status from all foreign government-funded political groups.
At the same time, the government itself must get serious about public diplomacy. A recent report produced by the Knesset Information Center for Law Committee Chairman MK Nissim Slomiansky from the Bayit Yehudi Party showed that Israel’s public diplomacy efforts are in a state of chaos. While the government budgeted some 500 million shekels to fight the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, almost none has been used. The Prime Minister’s Office has used only 28 percent of its public diplomacy budget.
The Foreign Ministry has earmarked no special funds to fighting BDS. Responsibility for Israel’s public diplomacy efforts are dispersed among a half-dozen ministries with competing interests.
Due in large part to this stunning governmental failure to competently defend the country, aside from the heroic work of a few privately funded Zionist NGOs forced to punch above their weight, the ground is clear for agents of subversion to undermine the government.
As the stalled Dayan appointment shows, these groups exploit governmental weaknesses and incompetence to launch effective boycotts not only against Israeli products, but against Israeli citizens.
Dani Dayan’s appointment is a test case. Shaked’s bill is also a test case. If the government stands its ground on Dayan’s stationing to Brasilia, and if the Knesset passes Shaked’s bill as written or a stronger version of it, then Israel will have taken its first steps towards ensuring that it will not be undermined by fringe elements of its society funded by hostile foreign governments. If the government fails in either of these undertakings, then it can expect acts of diplomatic, political and legal subversion to proliferate and will see its ability to advance the policies it was elected to implement disappear.