Diplomatic dispute


Was Israeli diplomat Nadav Tamir doing his job or derelict in his duty when he sent home a memo criticizing his government’s handling of relations with the United States.

Ilan Troen, the director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University, praised Tamir in an article for Ha’aretz:

… The whole matter reminds me of a brilliant essay by Walter Lippmann, one of the great commentators on American society. This essay was published about 70 years ago under the title, "The Indispensable Opposition."

Tamir is considered by many people to be one of the most skilled of the middle generation of the Foreign Ministry’s diplomats. Among other responsibilities, he was given the task of representing Israel before the academic community, where Jews enjoy special prominence, and to report back to the Foreign Ministry about the mood in this important sector. In practice, he was to be the trusted and perceptive envoy working in both spheres.

There is really nothing extraordinary in his cable, which for unclear reasons was leaked to the media. The supporters and critics of U.S. President Barack Obama or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not find anything to get at all excited about. What is much more disturbing is how the cable was regarded in Jerusalem.

The dismissive way in which Tamir’s cable was received in the Prime Minister’s Bureau is a product of a contempt for criticism – contempt which many in Israel and other countries attribute to a tendency toward self-righteousness and a siege mentality in Jerusalem.

Nonsense, says Isi Leibler:

Boston Consul General Nadav Tamir may be the most talented diplomat in the foreign ministry. He should nevertheless be dismissed forthwith, or at the very least carpeted and downgraded.

Even if the policy of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was flawed, Tamir’s outburst was inexcusable. A diplomat is appointed to serve the government elected by the people. If he feels that the policies he is obliged to present are so diametrically counter to his beliefs that he must publicly express his opposition, he has the choice of resigning and launching a political campaign against the government. Unfortunately Tamir acted as though he could have his cake and eat it too.

The role of a diplomat includes conveying – through discrete, appropriate channels – evaluations of the political situation in his region. Clearly the role of a local consul general is not to distribute memoranda providing his personal assessment of the government policies at the national level. That is the province of an ambassador (to whom Tamir should report) who would ensure that if appropriate, such reviews or assessments are channeled to the appropriate authority in Jerusalem.

But Tamir bypassed the ambassador and distributed his memo to a wide distribution list.

Were the Foreign Ministry to be transformed into an arena in which individual diplomats could freely and widely promote and distribute their political views or agendas it would become totally dysfunctional. …

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