This piece was submitted by Jamie Levin, a former executive director of Ameinu and currently a PhD student at the University of Toronto.
It is often said that Israelis share the unfortunate national characteristic of being rude. Another view conflates Israelis with the sabra, the fruit of a cactus common to the region. In this view, Israelis are direct, even prickly on the outside, but sweet on the inside, at least once you get to know them. Hence native-born Israelis are called sabras.
Though Bibi Netanhayu is the first prime minister born in the State of Israel, I’m afraid he is no sabra by the definition offered above. Fluent in both Hebrew and English, he appears smug in both. Probably for the better, Netanyahu appointed a foreign minister who speaks little English. For when Avigdor Lieberman is understood he often offends; his views border on racist and his policies on the absurd.
More recently, Netanhayu’s deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, caused a row with Turkey by deliberately humiliating their ambassador on Israeli television. Turkey, a close ally, has criticized Israel over its actions in Gaza. Israel’s response? Seat the ambassador on an absurdly low chair and invite the press into the room while Ayalon lectures the ‘naughty child’. If there was any doubt about the intended effect, Israeli television broadcast the whole bit, including Ayalon’s instructions to the television crew to get the camera angle right in order to fully convey the humiliation. Not surprising, Israeli-Turkish relations have suffered as a result.
And then there are the actions undertaken by Netanyahu’s interior minister, Eli Yishai, during American Vice President Joe Biden’s recent visit to Israel. In preparation for peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Yishai announced the construction of 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem despite the fact that the Obama administration has pleaded with Israel to halt settlement construction (and honour past commitments to stop building in the West Bank). The timing of this move could only be read as a deliberate attempt to undermine peace talks with the Palestinians and as a direct insult to America, Israel’s closest ally and friend.
In the face a looming Iranian nuclear threat, continued bellicosity from Syria and Hezbollah, and intermittent rocket attacks from Hamas controlled Gaza, it is perhaps no wonder that Israel feels insecure and isolated.
Israel’s recent actions may be the response of an exasperated country in the face of these perceived threats. Ironically, such actions only reinforce Israel’s isolation. And rightly so.
To be sure, one may argue about the finer points of policy but diplomacy requires a soft touch, particularly with one’s friends. It is, therefore, hard to see how these actions fall under the subtle category of diplomacy. These and others are profoundly impolitic acts of an increasingly rude state.
Netanyahu needs to learn some manners.
Jamie Levin is a PhD student at the University of Toronto.