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Meet the Knesset’s new foreign envoy

CM 16/09/2021

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Before the corona era began, the Knesset played a critical role in Israel’s public diplomacy.
Its MKs frequently traveled around the world to conferences, where they represented Israel and explained its policies.
MKs from across the political spectrum used such events to build their star power as defenders of Israel, including future diplomats Tzipi Hotovely and Danny Danon, current MK Sharren Haskel, and former MK Einat Wilf.

Knesset members are no longer crisscrossing the globe while the world recovers from the pandemic, but the Knesset’s international outreach has not stopped, and Labor MK Emilie Moatti intends to lead it, in her unique way.
Moatti was formally appointed on Sunday to head the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee’s Subcommittee on Foreign Policy and Public Diplomacy. The subcommittee will deal with Israel’s foreign relations with countries, international institutions, and organizations; monitor its public diplomacy efforts; and provide parliamentary oversight for cabinet ministries that deal with such issues, most notably the Foreign Ministry.
She is also the head of the Knesset’s delegation to the European Council, and the chair of the Friendship caucuses with France and Belgium.
The oldest of six children of Tunisian descent raised in a religious home in Netanya, Moatti worked and studied in France before returning to Israel and advising politicians and parties. She served as spokeswoman for Reuven Rivlin when he was elected president, advised the Hatnua Party of Tzipi Livni, and her company worked with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the Geneva Initiative, the French embassy in Israel, and a controversial three months advising the Joint List and its Balad Party.
A mother of two daughters, she met her husband, veteran diplomat Daniel Shek, when he was ambassador to France. Her husband’s father, Ze’ev Shek, was one of the founders of the Foreign Ministry, served as ambassador to Rome, and was the personal secretary of Moshe Sharett, Israel’s first foreign minister.
Now it will be part of Moatti’s job to make sure the Foreign Ministry is run properly and to represent Israel herself.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post this week, Moatti said she is excited and humbled to embark on the task. In her first trip abroad in her role, she will meet with her Italian counterpart Marta Grande, and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.
“It is a tremendous responsibility representing nine million people,” Moatti said. “I have known Anne Hidalgo and Marta Grande as friends, but this is my first time meeting them officially. I am not coming as Emilie but as an official representative of Israel. I can’t get angry or laugh. I know my words matter.”
Ahead of her appointment, Moatti met with Foreign Ministry Director-General Alon Ushpiz, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s diplomatic adviser Yair Zivan, and current and former ambassadors. She drafted a document on Israeli diplomacy for the decade ahead that deals with how to tell the story of Israel and improve the Foreign Ministry.
“Israel has no official national worldview of foreign relations,” she lamented. “But Yair Lapid decided to open a new page with the world. Instead of being adversarial, we will be increasing dialogue with the world focusing on our mutual interests.”
Even after the closure of the Strategic Affairs Ministry, Moatti said there were still too many government offices that deal with the fight against antisemitism and the BDS movement. She said all such efforts should be handled by the Foreign Ministry, with a united public diplomacy policy and archive of information ready for Israel’s spokespeople.
“It used to be that when the foreign press wanted someone to speak for Israel, there was an authorized list,” she said. “Now any donkey on Youtube speaks for the country and talks without knowledge or nuance. They need to be given knowledge by official diplomatic and security sources. There is a smart way for a country to portray itself to the world.”
From Moatti’s point of view, former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrongly portrayed Israel as a “nation that dwells alone” that must constantly defend itself and justify its existence.
“We can’t be a  nation that dwells alone and simultaneously a light unto the nations,” she said. “We are strong, and our existence is no longer in doubt. We shouldn’t broadcast victimhood. We should go back to routine diplomacy. Not every meeting needs a big press conference afterward. This is a government of responsible adults.”
Moatti praised Lapid for presenting a plan for the economic development of the Gaza Strip in return for stopping terror. She said Israel should draft the world to implement Lapid’s plan, which she said was similar to what Likud politician Israel Katz had proposed in the past.
Despite Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s worldview being different from hers, Moatti said she had no problem speaking for him and explaining his policies around the world, because his policies are those of the government as a whole.
“I never thought I’d be in a coalition under Bennett or with him, but he is my prime minister,” she said. “This is a miracle government of Israel, and we have a parliamentary democracy. I am satisfied with the prime minister. Something happened to him. When right-wingers come to power, other than Netanyahu, they change for the better. They realize all of a sudden where they are, and that they can’t speak nonsense anymore. There is a price for their words.”
When Bennett walks to his seat in the Knesset plenum and passes Moatti’s front-row seat, she says “Hello Mr. Prime Minister,” respecting his role.
Moatti is convinced that after the world becomes more vaccinated, parliamentary diplomacy will come back. She is looking forward to a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee visit to the United States next summer.
She is pleased that the current government is making an effort to restore its objectively bipartisan relationship with the US, after she said Netanyahu’s government was “extraordinarily in favor of Donald Trump,” which she said “divided us from US Jews.”
Moatti is pleased with the policies of US President Joe Biden, and disregards those on the fringes like New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the board of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream that broke a contract with its Israeli franchisee who refused to stop selling over the pre-1967 border.
“Boycotts don’t serve anyone, and won’t impact Israeli policies to the Palestinians,” she said. “My worldview doesn’t depend on what an American legislator thinks. Those who like us like us. There is no point in wasting time on fringes who don’t like us. Those on the fringes will continue to believe what they believe. Those who are antisemitic won’t change, but there aren’t a lot of them. Most of the world is indifferent.”
Asked about Lapid’s treatment of Poland following the passage of its new Holocaust restitution law, Moatti said Israel must consider its deep commitment to the Jewish people when deciding how to implement its policies.
“National interests are not just economic ties and votes at the UN,” she said. “If they don’t understand our narrative and what we really care about, maybe they aren’t so supportive. If they were friends, we could tell them the truth. The times when we looked away and accepted antisemitic policies are gone.”
By contrast, she praised France, whose citizenship she had to relinquish when she joined the Knesset four months ago. She said French President Emmanuel Macron was right to set aside divisive issues and focus on matters that unite, just as Israel’s government set out to do at the outset.
Moatti said her subcommittee would be a safe space to evaluate the Foreign Ministry. If there will be criticism, it will be constructive and positive. She said the Foreign Ministry was changing for the better, but still had a long way to go and could be overseen with “dialogue and sechel (wisdom).”
“Statesmanship is back,” she said. “I am a small screw in an eternal nation and it cannot be taken lightly. Our values open doors, not close them. This generation was not raised on hate, so they can speak at eye level. We have a lot to learn and a lot to teach.”

Source: Jerusalem Post

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