The Changing Face of Israeli Diplomacy

The next generation of Israel's diplomatic corps

Ofer Bavly headshot image

As a veteran of the Israeli Foreign Service, I sometimes speak to new diplomatic recruits and cadets. I believe that the older generations have a responsibility to transmit our experiences, warts and all, to those taking their first steps into the international arena, educating about the State of Israel. 

Recently, I spoke to the latest batch of cadets at the end of their cadet course. Most will be leaving on their first diplomatic posting abroad this summer, dispersed around the world like modern-day Jewish nomads. They will spend three or four decades, representing Israel, making formal and informal connections, advocating for it, battling for its very legitimacy, negotiation on its behalf, and perhaps, hopefully, making peace with our enemies.  

Speaking to them, I found myself answering their questions about the changing face of diplomacy in an age of immediate communication and technology. Having grown up in a diplomat's home, I remember my father using telex cables in the early 70s and reading three morning newspapers to bring himself up to date on events from 24 hours earlier. I recall his amazement when he told me, in 1979, that he had witnessed a machine called a facsimile spew out an exact replica of a hand-written note sent minutes earlier from the other side of the world. How far the diplomatic profession has come! 

I told the cadets that technology has made their lives that much easier, but also that much more complicated than it was in my father's time-and even in my own days as a diplomat.  

I explained that today's news cycle is measured in seconds, not days. That an attack on Israel in the media will not wait for tomorrow's retort in the back page of a newspaper and needs to be addressed immediately on social media. They must be on top of the news cycle, quick on their feet, and able to respond to any event without waiting for instructions.  

Social media and the advent of the internet also enables our diplomats to reach their target audience swiftly and without the filter of sometimes biased or ill-informed traditional media.  

In my early days, I had to write a well-argued article and convince an editor to run it in a newspaper, and, even then, I only reached a select audience of those particularly interested in Middle Eastern affairs.  

Today's diplomat has a range of social media outlets at his or her fingertips to reach millions of young people, professionals, politicians, and opinion-makers without the need for the favors of an editor or a correspondent. Social media is an amazing tool, but also a double-edged sword that can be used just as effectively by those wishing to damage Israel.  

But one thing, I stressed, has not changed, in 72 years of Israel's existence. The country is still shunned by many (though fewer than in the past), still threated on a daily basis by a myriad of terror organizations, and still living under the threat of annihilation by a country pursuing a homicidal nuclear option with one target in mind.  

Today's Israeli diplomats, much like their predecessors of decades past, still need to defend so much: the very idea of Zionism, the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own, the right of Israelis to defend themselves against ongoing onslaughts taking a range of shapes and forms, from terror attacks to delegitimization efforts, from divestment to boycotts, and from biased resolutions in international fora to blatantly unjust actions in the International Court of Justice.  

Our new diplomats are better prepared for the battle they face using the most modern tools, while also trained to bring Israeli innovation, arts, and culture to new audiences around the world. The tools of the trade are modern, but the mission of Israeli diplomats is as old as the country itself: to defend and promote Zionism and the Jewish nation. 

Herzl and Ben-Gurion could not have imagined Israel's many successes of the past several decades. Many more successes are within our reach-and Israel's next generation of diplomats will help us achieve them. 

Ofer Bavly is the Director General of the JUF Israel Office. 


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