Criticism Of Information Minister Galit Distel-Atbaryan Transcends Usual Left-Right Divide Among Jewish Organizations Worldwide as Ministry Marred By Infighting And Frequent Staff Reshuffles
By Daniel Edelson
(SEPTEMBER 19, 2023 / YNET) Recent reports of turmoil within the office of Information Minister Galit Distel-Atbaryan have not gone unnoticed by the Jewish Diaspora, raising concerns about Israel’s public diplomacy efforts. They have unveiled a turbulent atmosphere marked by shouting, humiliation and a revolving door of staff members.
Minister Galit Distel-Atbaryan reportedly has engaged in heated confrontations with her team, often holding them accountable for perceived shortcomings. Phrases like “you’re failing me” have become disturbingly common in the minister’s rhetoric. It has emerged that three chiefs of staff have been replaced in the Information Ministry since Distel-Atbaryan assumed her role.
The recent removal of the newly appointed chief of staff has further fueled doubts about the ministry’s stability. Adding to the upheaval, the information minister announced the termination of her director-general Dr. Gali Sambira, a professional previously seen as a good fit. Distel-Atbaryan cited dissatisfaction with Sambira’s performance as the reason behind her dismissal.
Responding to allegations of chaos and instability, the minister’s office issued a statement, asserting: “For four months, the professional staff of the Information Ministry failed to realize the minister’s policy and vision and the mission for which it was created, not even a little bit. The minister of Information regards this task as a mission and a personal responsibility to Israeli citizens.”
The newly established Information Ministry, under Distel-Atbaryan’s leadership, recently marked its one-year anniversary, receiving markedly mixed reactions from Jewish organizations worldwide. This milestone provides an opportunity to assess Israel’s ongoing efforts to enhance its global outreach and address concerns surrounding its international image.
While some major Jewish organizations chose not to offer public statements for fear of interfering in Israeli internal politics, privately, they expressed significant frustration. They felt isolated in their endeavors to counteract consistent attacks on Israel and its government, and many believed that Distel-Atbaryan’s approach had done more harm than good.
Interestingly, criticism of the minister transcends the usual left-right divide among Jewish organizations. Morton Klein, president of the right wing Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), surprisingly expressed dissatisfaction, remarking: “It’s a very sad situation. It’s like there is no advocacy work on the part of the Israeli government. I have the privilege of visiting schools, engaging with students, congregations and synagogues, and it’s truly heartening to witness the genuine surprise when people hear the unvarnished truth. Many are left wondering, ‘Where is the minister in all of this? Why isn’t she actively working to address these crucial issues faced by Israel?’”
He lamented the lack of effective communication on crucial issues related to the conflict, asserting, “The whole truth of the Arab-Islamic war against Israel is on Israel’s side. However, the Ministry of Information and Israeli government officials never use these truths.”
Klein urged Israel to launch a campaign “exposing actions taken by Palestinian leaders, such as offering lifetime pensions to those involved in attacks on Jews and promoting violence against Jews through various media channels.” He also emphasized the importance of educating students and the public about the history of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. “If students and others knew this, they would find it difficult to support the Palestinians over Israel,” he said
On the topic of judicial reform, Klein underscored: “People must be educated to understand that the unelected Supreme Court of Israel can nullify elected Knesset-passed laws by simply saying they’re ‘unreasonable.’ For example, the Knesset passed a law stating that Israel must deport all illegal African Eritreans, but then the court deemed it ‘unreasonable,’ and no one was deported. The unelected Supreme Court members choose their own replacements. The new members of the court should be chosen by elected officials who can be held accountable.”
Klein pointed out that “two renowned jurists in America, Judges Robert Bork and Richard Posner, wrote articles attacking Israel’s Supreme Court as the worst in the world with power no court should ever have. Until judicial reform is passed, Israel will continue to be ruled by a judicial tyranny dictatorship. If Israeli officials and the Ministry of Information had made these issues clear, Israel would gain enormous support in the world and on campuses, and support for Palestinians would decline dramatically.”
In contrast, left wing Jewish organizations offer a different critical perspective. Kenneth Bob, president of Ameinu (the American Labor Zionist organization) who also sits on the board of the Jewish Agency and the J Street Education Fund, challenged the very existence of the public diplomacy minister role. Bob argued, “To the best of my knowledge, Israel is the only country in the world with a minister of public diplomacy, as this role is properly filled by the Foreign Ministry staff.” He suggested that it primarily served as a means to create jobs for junior Likud Knesset members and noted: “This is a role that historically was filled by professionals in the Foreign Ministry.”
Bob pointed to a specific instance in which the ministry, under Distel-Atbaryan’s leadership, proposed an aggressive strategy targeting international media outlets. “For example, an early and misguided initiative included a request by over 100 Israeli spokespeople in the government and the IDF to go to war with the leading international media. Fortunately, the materials produced by her office were rejected,” he said.
Bob contended that Israel’s public diplomacy challenges were rooted in perceived policy shifts away from democracy and toward the Palestinians, women and minorities. He cited polls and studies suggesting that American Jews largely rejected these changes. “There is no way to put a pretty face on the facts on the ground,” he said.
Across the pond, the British Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL), a network for Jewish members of the Labour Party, which frequently scrutinizes Israeli policy in the Palestinian territories, labeled Distel-Atbaryan as the “minister of chutzpah.” They stated: “Now we’ve gotten an answer from the Israeli minister of hasbara, or public diplomacy, Galit Distel-Atbaryan, and it’s a rehash of the most Jewish-supremacist tropes of Zionist ideology.”
Amid this tumult within the minister’s office, one undeniable truth emerges: Israel’s public diplomacy efforts are in disarray, raising serious concerns for the Jewish Diaspora and the international community. Both right wing and left wing Jewish organizations concur that Distel-Atbaryan’s leadership has been inadequate, resulting in a growing list of grievances and disappointments. In the face of controversies, chaos, and a mounting consensus of dissatisfaction, the hope of the Jews abroad for Israel lies in a reconsideration of its approach.
This article was originally published in Ynetnews.com and can be viewed here.