Ministry of Strategic Affairs

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Ministry of Strategic Affairs
המשרד לנושאים אסטרטגיים
Emblem of Israel.svg
Emblem of Israel
Agency overview
Formed2006
JurisdictionGovernment of Israel

The Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy (Hebrew: המשרד לנושאים אסטרטגיים, HaMisrad LeNos'im Astrategi'im) was an Israeli government ministry responsible for leading the campaign against the BDS movement.[1] The ministry was closed down in 2021 by the 36th government and merged into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.[2]

History[edit]

The Ministry was created in 2006 for Avigdor Lieberman, whose Yisrael Beiteinu party had just joined the governing coalition. Lieberman had demanded the Internal Security Minister post, but as he was under police investigation, and the post was already held by Avi Dichter, a new ministry was created for him, with the role of coordinating security, intelligence and diplomatic initiatives regarding Iran and other strategic threats.[3] Lieberman left the government on 18 January 2008, and the ministry was closed down in April. In 2009, it was resurrected and repurposed under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.[3] The ministry was closed in August 2021 by the 36th government of Israel.

The Strategic Affairs Minister is currently not a part of the Israeli cabinet.

# Minister Party Government Term start Term end Notes
1 Avigdor Lieberman Yisrael Beiteinu 31 30 October 2006 18 January 2008
2 Ehud Olmert Kadima 31 18 January 2008 13 April 2008 Serving Prime Minister
3 Moshe Ya'alon Likud 32 31 March 2009 18 March 2013
4 Yuval Steinitz Likud 33 18 March 2013 14 May 2015
5 Ze'ev Elkin Likud 34 14 May 2015 25 May 2015
6 Gilad Erdan Likud 34 25 May 2015 17 May 2020
7 Orit Farkash-Hacohen Blue and White 35 17 May 2020 30 November 2020
8 Michael Biton Blue and White 35 30 November 2020 13 June 2021
9 Yair Lapid Yesh Atid 36 13 June 2021 3 August 2021

Budget[edit]

The Ministry's director general stated Sima Vaknin-Gil stated in 2016 that the budget for the Ministry's anti-BDS efforts for that year was NIS 44 million ($11 million).[4]

Activities[edit]

Under Gildad Erdan's leadership, the Ministry attempted to keep its activities secret. Erdan and Vaknin-Gil even tried, unsuccessfully, to exempt the Ministry from the Israeli Freedom of Information Law.[5] In 2016, Vaknin-Gil refused to divulge details of the Ministry's activities to a committee of Israeli parliamentarians. "A lot of what we do is under the radar," she told them.[6] However, the Ministry came under a new leadership in 2018; Orit Farkash-Hacohen became the new Strategic Affairs Minister and Ronen Manelis his director general. They announced that they intended to increase the Ministry's transparency which allowed previously secret documents to be published.[7]

The Ministry believes that state propaganda is less effective in persuading the public than institutions and individuals perceived as acting independently. The Ministry has therefore created a "network" of domestic and international organizations to advance the state's "message."[8]

Purchasing favorable news coverage[edit]

In January 2020, the Israeli investigative magazine The Seventh Eye reported that the Ministry was buying space in mainstream Israeli newspapers to promote its campaign against the BDS movement.[9]

The campaign began in summer 2017 with a budget of ILS 7 million campaign to influence media outlets such as Yedioth Ahronoth, The Jerusalem Post, and the Keshet Media Group. The Ministry paid NIS 120,000 to place articles in The Jerusalem Post and NIS 70,000 to "sponsor" a conference hosted by the newspaper. In exchange for the sponsorship, the Ministry received a 30-minute-panel at the conference which included a screening of a film produced by the Ministry about BDS and anti-Semitism. Prior to the conference, The Jerusalem Post published several articles and op-eds about supposed "links between BDS and anti-Semitism."[9]

Karin Peretz of the Ministry's "public arena" arm told the Seventh Eye that the payment included "sponsored content" but a spokesperson for the Ministry later stated that Peretz was mistaken and that the payment did not include a series of articles. The Jerusalem Post denied that the articles had been paid for.[9]

In October 2020, The Seventh Eye reported that the Ministry in 2019 had paid The Jerusalem Post NIS 120,000 to publish a special supplement titled Unmasking BDS.[10] The Ministry's own officials were interviewed in the supplement as well as Republican Senator Ted Cruz.[11]

Act.IL[edit]

The Ministry supports and funds Act.IL, a grassroots mobilization app that directs its users to serve Israel online.[12] For example, by commenting on and sharing pro-Israel material on social media and to flag, report, and respond to criticism of Israel.[13]

Closure of bank accounts[edit]

In 2019, the Ministry announced that a financial campaign had resulted in the shutdown of 30 financial accounts belonging to BDS-promoting non-governmental organizations (NGOs); 20 in Europe and 10 in the U.S.[14] Among them, accounts belonging to the Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network,[15] the Palestinian BDS National Committee, and Al-Haq.[16] The accounts were shut down through a combination of efforts by the Ministry, Shurat HaDin, and the International Legal Forum.[17]

Coordination with NGOs[edit]

The Ministry cooperates and coordinates with several Israeli and international pro-Israel non-governmental organizations. Among them, Shurat HaDin,[16] the International Legal Forum,[16] the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies,[18] and the Israel on Campus Coalition.[19] The Ministry has given $445,000 to the American think tank Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy,[20] and $40,000 to the American anti-Muslim hate group Proclaiming Justice to the Nations.[21]

In 2017, the Ministry announced the formation of an anti-BDS legal network. As part of this network, the Ministry-funded NGO the International Legal Forum, would distribute grants of NIS 600,000 to professionals and organizations engaged in the legal fight against BDS.[22][23]

In 2020, the Ministry announced a "financial aid program" to the "pro-Israel network" to counteract the funding crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.[24]

A diplomatic cable first reported about in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in 2017 caused controversy as it indicated that the Ministry had attempted to "operate" British Jewish organizations. The Israeli Foreign Ministry which, had sent the cable to the Strategic Affairs Ministry, cautioned it not to do so. "The strategic affairs ministry must understand that ‘operating’ organisations directly from Jerusalem by email and telephone isn't good for their health," it warned.[25]

Criticism[edit]

Critics allege that the Ministry is leading a campaign of online trolling, legal harassment and intelligence gathering against BDS activists worldwide.[26] According to Rebecca Vilkomerson, former executive director of the left-wing Jewish Voice for Peace, the Ministry's attacks on BDS is part of a campaign "to stifle the growing support for Palestinian rights, using dirty tactics including cyberbullying and false legal claims that intimidate and try to silence criticism of Israeli policy".[27]

The Ministry has also been criticized for its cooperation with, and sometimes funding of, American NGOs, which critics believe could violate the Foreign Agents Registration Act.[28] Ali Abunimah, founder of the pro-Palestinian website The Electronic Intifada, said "if you had on tape a statement of a senior Russian or Iranian or even Canadian official saying that they were running covert operations, to spy on Americans, and using an organization like the Foundation for Defense of Democracies as a front…it would be a bombshell."[18]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ Nathan-Kazis 2018: Israeli agency tasked with opposing the BDS movement; Cobain & MacAskill 2017: Israel’s strategic affairs ministry has been handed the task of countering the worldwide campaign to use boycotts, divestment and sanctions to target Israel – the so-called BDS movement.; GOV.IL: Leading the campaign against the actions of anti-Israel delegitimization and boycott campaigns The formation, inclusion and coordination of government efforts to deal with the phenomenon in all its aspects. These include diplomacy, consciousness, academic, economic, cultural and legal activity.
  2. ^ Harkov, Lahav (2021-06-24). "Has the Strategic Affairs Ministry achieved its goals?". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2021-07-01.
  3. ^ a b Katz 2009.
  4. ^ White 2020, p. 70: In 2016, Vaknin-Gil ... NIS 44 million
  5. ^ Landau 2020.
  6. ^ White 2020, p. 70.
  7. ^ Landau 2020: the new leadership of the ministry ... have announced that they intend on increasing the ministry's transparency.
  8. ^ The Seventh Eye 2019.
  9. ^ a b c Benzaquen 2020.
  10. ^ Benzaquen 2020b: The amount paid for the Jerusalem Post supplement ... about NIS 120,000.
  11. ^ The Jerusalem Post 2019.
  12. ^ Kiel 2020, p. 8.
  13. ^ Lark 2020.
  14. ^ Jaffe-Hoffman 2019: Ten of the closed accounts were in the United States, while 20 were in Europe.
  15. ^ Jaffe-Hoffman 2019.
  16. ^ a b c Kane 2019.
  17. ^ Jaffe-Hoffman 2019: shut down at the request of the International Legal Forum. ... BNC had its crowdfunding account on Donorbox shut down ... by the ministry and the NGO Shurat Hadin.
  18. ^ a b Gresh 2018.
  19. ^ Nathan-Kazis 2018: The ICC has a close working relationship with the Israeli government, ... Leaders appear in an unaired hidden camera documentary saying that they “coordinate” or “communicate” with Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs,
  20. ^ Pink 2020.
  21. ^ Pink 2020b.
  22. ^ Kane 2019: according to Israeli government documents reviewed by In These Times, the International Legal Forum receives direct funding from the Ministry.
  23. ^ Jaffe-Hoffman 2018.
  24. ^ Kampeas 2020.
  25. ^ Cobain & MacAskill 2017: In a cable to the Israeli foreign ministry, the diplomats also cautioned that operations being run by the country’s strategic affairs ministry could be dangerous and counterproductive. “The strategic affairs ministry must understand that ‘operating’ organisations directly from Jerusalem by email and telephone isn’t good for their health,” warned the cable from London.
  26. ^ Kane 2019: The Ministry finances and leads a campaign of online trolling, legal harassment and intelligence-gathering against BDS activists worldwide, according to investigative reports
  27. ^ Kane 2019: “[The Ministry’s] attacks on the BDS movement are part of a larger campaign to stifle the growing support for Palestinian rights, using dirty tactics including cyberbullying and false legal claims that intimidate and try to silence criticism of Israeli policy,” says Rebecca Vilkomerson
  28. ^ Gresh 2018: Under US law, organizations and individuals working for foreign governments must register with the Department of Justice.; Pink 2020c: Pro-Israel groups took money from Israel's Ministry of Strategic Affairs, possibly violating the FARA law against foreign influence campaigns

Sources[edit]

External links[edit]