To be or not to be an agent of a foreign country: That is the question

March 22, 2010

In News

European rabbis may become the latest addition to Israel’s arsenal of public diplomacy tools, following Minister Yuli Edelstein’s request this week that they act as “ambassadors.” But authorities on Israel advocacy in Europe warned the plan could end up reinforcing tendencies to blame Jewish communities for Israel’s actions.

Edelstein, the Information and Diaspora Minister, conveyed his request this week through Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, who met with a large delegation from the Rabbinical Center of Europe in Jerusalem. “We would like you to learn how to answer questions about the State of Israel,” Rabbi Metzger told the group of rabbis, referring specifically to “disinformation regarding Operation Cast Lead.”

Dr. Mikael Tossavainen, who is in charge of the Scandinavian desk at Tel Aviv University’s Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism, described this plan as “a bad idea.”

“Using rabbis as spokespeople would reinforce the image that’s already very strong, that Jews are in some way connected or responsible for what Israel does,” he said. “In small Jewish communities and especially in Scandinavia it would also be ineffective because most Scandinavian rabbis are not originally Scandinavian,” Tossavainen added, explaining they would appear “foreign.”

Speaking to Anglo File, Edelstein said such reservations are obsolete. “These concerns were justified 20 years ago,” the minister said. “All or nearly all Jewish communities in Europe and elsewhere understand they are inextricably bound together with Israel. With very few exceptions, rabbis and community leaders are telling me they want to help.”

Ron Edelheit, a Dutch-born Israel Defense Forces officer who serves in the IDF Spokesperson unit, said Israel “needs any friendly voice it can get,” but added that European Jewish communities still “very much fear” becoming part of the Middle East conflict by publicly supporting Israel.

“We are already seeing this happening, with anti-Semitism flaring up in Europe every time the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors flares up,” said Edelheit, who regularly speaks on hasbara to Jewish groups on his visits to Holland and Belgium.