TORONTO — News out of Israel earlier this month suggesting that DJ Schneeweiss, the country’s new consul general to Toronto and Western Canada, had written a report that harms the Jewish state’s interests were “spun out of context,” the diplomat told The CJN.
While he did prepare a classified report for the Israeli Foreign Ministry that provided a “comprehensive assessment of the assault on Israel’s legitimacy,” it was submitted in his prior capacity as the ministry’s director of civil society affairs, in which he led efforts to counter the delegitimization of Israel on the international scene.
The July report, parts of which were released by Israel’s Ma’ariv newspaper, summarized his three years in that position, he said, and was not meant for public consumption. Rather, it was strictly for “internal deliberation and integration of the findings into how we handle ourselves” with respect to deligitimization.
It was not a critique of the government’s policies, as suggested by some Israeli media outlets, he said.
“My report didn’t engage in a substantive discussion of Israel’s policy positions regarding the peace process or anything else. Insofar as it touched on those policy matters, it did so with respect to the tactical management and conduct of our public diplomacy against the background of the anti-Israel campaign. There was no value judgment or policy options” submitted, he said.
Schneeweiss took over for former consul general Amir Gissin this past August.
Speaking at his office last week, Schneeweiss said reports in Ma’ariv and The Times of Israel in early November made it seem that he was criticizing the government for its policies in the West Bank and at the United Nations, specifically with regard to how Israel’s relations with the Palestinians helps delegitimization activists.
In his report, Schneeweiss argued that issues such as Israel’s insistence that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state and the government’s fierce opposition to any change in the Palestinians’ status at the UN have little impact on Israel’s actual legitimacy.
He said that while there are many good reasons to oppose the Palestinian attempt to achieve non-member status at the UN – “For one, it outflanks the peace process,” he said – arguing that it poses a threat to Israel’s legitimacy is not one of them.
“There is nothing inherent in the manoeuvrings by the Palestinians at the UN that challenges the legitimacy of Israel,” Schneeweiss said.
Similarly, he argued, whether the Palestinians do or do not recognize Israel as a Jewish state doesn’t affect Israel’s legitimacy either.
He said one of the “key insights” in his report is that Israel should be “more disciplined” when it comes to the language it uses to describe delegitimization efforts.
Specifically, the government should “avoid falling into the trap of describing every disagreement with Israeli positions as an assault on our very existence. There is a tendency, in some quarters, to do just that.”
Israel’s credibility isn’t well served by misrepresenting the degree of hostility by anti-Israel activists to it, he argued.
“There is a price you pay to credibility when you imply that every single time someone disagrees with you they’re actually trying to end your existence. We have to be more disciplined” than that, he said.
Schneeweiss added: “The way that my report was spun was that it was somehow a challenge to Israeli positions [on dealing with the Palestinians and anti-Israel activism]. It’s quite the opposite, the report was saying ‘These are our positions. How can we do them better?’”
He said his report tried to convey a “sense of proportion” to policymakers of what effect things such as “flotillas” and so-called “flytillas” actually have on Israel’s legitimacy.
“Just because someone has the intent or makes the attempt to delegitimize you doesn’t mean you actually have been delegitimized,” Schneeweiss said.
He added: “In the 65 years that we’ve had our state… Palestinian recognition of Israel itself or its Jewish character has never been one of the sources of [Israel’s] legitimacy. We are legitimate because we have borders, the rule of law, UN recognition, a historic right to the land… and because the western world sees us, in general, as legitimate.”
Schneeweiss acknowledged that a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would “absolutely buttress” Israel’s legitimacy. “But the issue of the conflict is something we have to resolve on its own terms. The issue of our legitimacy is associated with the [peace process], but it’s not inherent” in it, he said.
He added that without a functioning peace process, it’s easier for those with an anti-Israel agenda to gain traction.
“I don’t see that as any earth-shattering political insight,” Schneeweiss said. “The existence of the conflict itself is not a problem of legitimacy.”