Wednesday, March 09, 2016

The Three Ways Israel Faces Isolation -- Yet Succeeds In Making Friends and Influencing People

I'm unmoved by the hand-wringing over Israel's "isolation." When I came to the country 30 years ago, Israel had no relations with the USSR (and Eastern Europe), China, and India. There was no foreign investment and a UN General Assembly resolution still stood, condemning Zionism as racism. It will take more than a Cairo mob, a truculent Turk, and another UN resolution to make me feel "isolated."
Middle East expert Martin Kramer, quoted by Todd Warnick in The "Isolation" Canard

For decades, claims are periodically trotted out that Israel -- by virtue of its actions -- is being faced with the threat of being isolated.

In describing Jerusalem's Decreasing Isolation, Efraim Inbar delineates 3 ways to measure a county's isolation:

  • The number of states that have diplomatic relations with a particular country. 
  • Membership in international governmental organizations and agencies. 
  • The amount of negative attention a state receives in international forums and public opinion. 
The claim that Israel is isolated on account of lacking friends and allies on the international stage is constantly being debunked. Just this week, Arsen Ostrovsky wrote that Israel not as isolated as many people think.

He notes that on Monday alone:
  • Netanyahu met the new Egyptian Ambassador, after a three year absence, and relations between Israel and Egypt are at a recent all-time high.
  • PM Netanyahu also announced a trip to Kenya and Africa, following the Kenyan President’s successful visit last week
  • The Knesset launched a new Israel-Africa caucus to strengthen ties with Israel, after Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed was quoted as saying that most African countries “see Israel as a very close friend.”
  • Both a senior delegation from the Bundestag, as well as the Italian Defense minister, visited Israel.
  • There are reports that Israel and Turkey are on the verge of normalizing diplomatic relations
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with new Egyptian Ambassador
Hazem Khairat in Jerusalem, February 29, 2016. (photo credit:KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

That is just within a 24 hour span on Monday.
Ostrovsky notes Israel's other diplomatic successes over the longer term:
  • Trade relations with India, China and Japan are at record high
  • The Governments of Britain and Canada as well as the EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini have strongly denounced the BDS Movement, with a number of states in the US doing likewise
  • Israel has been forming close strategic ties with Greece and Cyprus
  • Israel continues to have strong diplomatic relations with Germany, where Netanyahu and Chancellor Merkel recently headed government meetings.
  • Relations with Russia are good, with cooperation on the situation in Syria
  • The threat of ISIS has improved relations between Israel and the Sunni Arab states.
Obviously, things are not nearly as good when you turn your attention to Israel's involvement with international agencies and organizations:  there are always problems at the UN, and Israel has problems with the EU, especially in connection with the labeling of Israeli products from Judea and Samaria ("The West Bank"). Getting back to Inbar, who was writing in 2013, he contends that while Israel's relations with the UN have not improved -- they have not gotten worse either. In fact, Israeli diplomats feel that in some ways, the UN has actually become less hostile.

After becoming a temporary member of the Western European and Other States Group in 2000, Israel became more integrated into the UN and has more involved in its agencies. Jerusalem has hosted UN-sponsored conferences and its international aid agency, Mashav, is supported by both the UN and other international agencies. In May 2010, Israel was also admitted to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, consisting of the 33 most developed countries in the world committed to democracy and the market economy. Israel is also an associate member of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), ensuring Israel's involvement in scientific projects in Europe.

Prime Minister Netanyahu (third from left) joined hands in Paris with leaders
(left to right) Andrus Ansip, Estonia; Felipe Larrain, Chile; Silvio Berlusconi, Italy;
Borut Pahor, Slovenia, and Angel Gurría, secretary general of the Organization for
Economic Co-operation and Development, when Israel was formally admitted
into the exclusive organization. Credit: MEF

Inbar notes that "Israel's enhanced position is based on European perceptions of its own self-interest rather than ideological alignment."

International forums and public opinion are another matter, what with the attempt to isolate Israel by delegitimizing it as an apartheid regime. The success of this 'Durban strategy' is not clear, with the effectiveness of the BDS movement debatable at best. Inbar suggests that some of Israel's isolation is the result of the Obama administration, specifically the diminishing clout of the US during his term as president.

Also of concern is the escalation of antisemitism and anti-Zionism on college campuses, not only because of the increase of the  phenomenon itself, but because of the lack of a strong response from the college and university heads as well. Yet even here, the fight on campuses is being joined. BDS campaigns there have not been as successful as in the past, with the defeat of divestment resolutions now making headlines.

Israel is not isolated.

Saying that obviously does not mean the threat of isolation does not exist. It does exist, and on all three levels -- diplomatic relations with other countries, international governmental organizations and agencies and  in international forums and public opinion. However, Israel is making headway in all three areas.

Yet, Israel to some extent will probably always fulfill the words of Balaam, who called the Jewish nation "a people that dwells alone".

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