Israeli Foreign Ministry's new 'guidelines' for overseas missions may have bad consequences

Israel's Foreign Ministry, with the approval of the Israeli Cabinet, has authorized Israeli embassies and consulates abroad to collect funds for the events they will host in commemoration of Israel Independence Day.  To be sure, the donations are to be vetted by a committee, and there are "certain guidelines" imposed:

Corporations can't make donations and the sum total collected cannot make up more than 25% of an event's budget. One donor cannot give more than NIS 100,000 per year.

The dispensation does not sit well with Israel's diplomatic corps worldwide, who rightly protest that "The role of Israel's envoys and diplomats is to represent Israel and the policy of its government, and not to beg for the generosity of rich people in order to finance our official activities."

Even on its face, the prohibition of corporate donations is quite flimsy; corporations can easily get around that hurdle through individual proxy donors.

The Foreign Ministry's "guidelines" are not written on a clean slate.  The ministry's funding has been continually cut in recent years, and vital consulates in key cities have been shuttered.  Israeli diplomats justifiably fear that the new "guidelines," in addition to being unprofessional, may well be a first step toward a de facto directive to proactively fundraise in order to maintain their posts of duty.  The "guidelines," coupled with the recent fiscal history of the Foreign Ministry, are simply insufficient to prevent abuses by donors and diplomats alike.

Ethical standards dictate that government employees and functionaries avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest in the performance of their official duties.  Such ethical issues can arise frequently; indeed, in previous lives as a federal contracting officer, a U.S. government attorney, and a small claims arbitrator for the New York City Civil Court, I had occasions (plural) to take measures, informal and otherwise, to ensure that my impartiality and objectivity remained beyond question.  Conflict situations are all the more likely to arise for diplomats and consular officers, whose social and professional bailiwick boundaries are, by nature, even less distinct than those of "desk jockey" bureaucrats.

Public perceptions are always relevant in matters of international diplomacy, and this fundraising "guidelines" matter arises at a time when there are public perceptions, internal and external to Israel, of conflicting interests on the part of both Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and those who now accuse him of having such conflicts.

Though the amounts that might be raised under the "guidelines" would constitute an insignificant fraction of the total sums donated for the benefit of Israel by world Jewish community members, the exchange would likely prove to be a foul bargain for Israel in general and its Foreign Ministry in particular.  Those approached for donations would feel that they already contribute to Israel and may well be reluctant to increase their total donation dollars.

Israel's American diplomats and consuls more than ever need to effectively reach out to American Jewry (and other Americans as well).  Various purportedly Jewish institutions in America have lately played host to anti-Israel speakers and programs, as anti-Semitism becomes increasingly the norm in American academia.  Too many American Jews have effectively turned against Israel by blindly remaining with the Democratic Party.  The effectiveness of Israel's envoys cannot help but be blunted if Israel's friends and foes alike see that Israel is throwing its own diplomats and consuls under the bus by inadequately supporting them.

Human nature being what it is, donors tend to expect some sort of quid pro quo for their contributions.  There is reason to fear that if Israeli diplomats accept donations to cover costs that should be borne by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, then the missions of Israel's diplomats and consuls could be seriously compromised.  Such in fact already happened with the annual Israel Parade in New York, whose organizers have allowed nominally Jewish individuals and groups having agendas that conflict with official Israeli policy to influence the parade's theme and message.

Israeli politicos should be thinking (as its diplomats and consuls implicitly seem to be doing) in terms of a wealthy donor with an anti-Israel agenda (think George Soros or Qatar or Iran) using the Foreign Ministry's supplication "guidelines" as a back door through which to hijack and pervert Israel's implementation of its official foreign policy.  Should such a thing happen, then America would find it all the more difficult to implement its own foreign policy and would become more vulnerable to interlopers in the process.

The Israeli Defense Ministry's new "guidelines" may well prove to be an early stumble in a slide down an undesirable slippery slope.  The "guidelines" need to be reversed and nullified.

Kenneth H. Ryesky, a freelance writer currently based in Israel, taught business law and taxation at Queens College CUNY for more than two decades following service as an attorney for the IRS and as an analyst and contracting officer for the U.S. Department of Defense.

Israel's Foreign Ministry, with the approval of the Israeli Cabinet, has authorized Israeli embassies and consulates abroad to collect funds for the events they will host in commemoration of Israel Independence Day.  To be sure, the donations are to be vetted by a committee, and there are "certain guidelines" imposed:

Corporations can't make donations and the sum total collected cannot make up more than 25% of an event's budget. One donor cannot give more than NIS 100,000 per year.

The dispensation does not sit well with Israel's diplomatic corps worldwide, who rightly protest that "The role of Israel's envoys and diplomats is to represent Israel and the policy of its government, and not to beg for the generosity of rich people in order to finance our official activities."

Even on its face, the prohibition of corporate donations is quite flimsy; corporations can easily get around that hurdle through individual proxy donors.

The Foreign Ministry's "guidelines" are not written on a clean slate.  The ministry's funding has been continually cut in recent years, and vital consulates in key cities have been shuttered.  Israeli diplomats justifiably fear that the new "guidelines," in addition to being unprofessional, may well be a first step toward a de facto directive to proactively fundraise in order to maintain their posts of duty.  The "guidelines," coupled with the recent fiscal history of the Foreign Ministry, are simply insufficient to prevent abuses by donors and diplomats alike.

Ethical standards dictate that government employees and functionaries avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest in the performance of their official duties.  Such ethical issues can arise frequently; indeed, in previous lives as a federal contracting officer, a U.S. government attorney, and a small claims arbitrator for the New York City Civil Court, I had occasions (plural) to take measures, informal and otherwise, to ensure that my impartiality and objectivity remained beyond question.  Conflict situations are all the more likely to arise for diplomats and consular officers, whose social and professional bailiwick boundaries are, by nature, even less distinct than those of "desk jockey" bureaucrats.

Public perceptions are always relevant in matters of international diplomacy, and this fundraising "guidelines" matter arises at a time when there are public perceptions, internal and external to Israel, of conflicting interests on the part of both Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and those who now accuse him of having such conflicts.

Though the amounts that might be raised under the "guidelines" would constitute an insignificant fraction of the total sums donated for the benefit of Israel by world Jewish community members, the exchange would likely prove to be a foul bargain for Israel in general and its Foreign Ministry in particular.  Those approached for donations would feel that they already contribute to Israel and may well be reluctant to increase their total donation dollars.

Israel's American diplomats and consuls more than ever need to effectively reach out to American Jewry (and other Americans as well).  Various purportedly Jewish institutions in America have lately played host to anti-Israel speakers and programs, as anti-Semitism becomes increasingly the norm in American academia.  Too many American Jews have effectively turned against Israel by blindly remaining with the Democratic Party.  The effectiveness of Israel's envoys cannot help but be blunted if Israel's friends and foes alike see that Israel is throwing its own diplomats and consuls under the bus by inadequately supporting them.

Human nature being what it is, donors tend to expect some sort of quid pro quo for their contributions.  There is reason to fear that if Israeli diplomats accept donations to cover costs that should be borne by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, then the missions of Israel's diplomats and consuls could be seriously compromised.  Such in fact already happened with the annual Israel Parade in New York, whose organizers have allowed nominally Jewish individuals and groups having agendas that conflict with official Israeli policy to influence the parade's theme and message.

Israeli politicos should be thinking (as its diplomats and consuls implicitly seem to be doing) in terms of a wealthy donor with an anti-Israel agenda (think George Soros or Qatar or Iran) using the Foreign Ministry's supplication "guidelines" as a back door through which to hijack and pervert Israel's implementation of its official foreign policy.  Should such a thing happen, then America would find it all the more difficult to implement its own foreign policy and would become more vulnerable to interlopers in the process.

The Israeli Defense Ministry's new "guidelines" may well prove to be an early stumble in a slide down an undesirable slippery slope.  The "guidelines" need to be reversed and nullified.

Kenneth H. Ryesky, a freelance writer currently based in Israel, taught business law and taxation at Queens College CUNY for more than two decades following service as an attorney for the IRS and as an analyst and contracting officer for the U.S. Department of Defense.