Saturday, May 26, 2018

What this blog is about

All predictions about the "end of history" or a gradual withering away of the  state so far proved to be wrong. International affairs are there to stay in a foreseeable future. The relations between the states are still crucial for the future of each one of us and all of humankind.

But the ways the states interact have changed. Classic diplomacy is no longer able to satisfy the needs of the states and promote their interests. The impact of international organizations, sub-state players, corporations and even individuals is growing and challenging the whole system of international relations. One of the major reasons behind this change is a mix of technology and a new form of mass media which we call social media.

The last 19 years I was a practitioner of international relations, being a member of the Israel's foreign service and working in Moscow, Los Angeles, Paris and Washington. From the beginning of my diplomtic career I paid a special attention to Internet. At my first assignment in Moscow, between 2000-2003,  as a spokesperson I was working not only with traditional media, but dedicated a lot of time to internet news sites and participated at the internet press-conferences.  One of my best interviews (from my point view) I gave to the website unlike newspaper, on the website the physical place is not limited and I could answer all the questions without any concern for space (

But invention of social networks was even bigger game changer, even though at that time  it was not so obvious. I consider myself an early adapter and enthusiast of Diplomacy 2.0: I initiated a training program on digital diplomacy that became mandatory for all diplomats within the Israeli Foreign Service, was strongly involved in international initiatives promoting Digital Government like, and was invited to speak at the O’Reilly GOV 2.0 online conference.

In this blog, that I originally created at 2009, I continue to analyze and discuss international relations, central topics of the global diplomatic agenda and the impact of social media on it.

Friday, February 17, 2012

On quasi-periodic crystals and self-confidence

Last week I had an opportunity to learn about the Quasi-periodic crystals. I am sure that like most of you, these words do not mean much, even if you check its definition on Wikipedia. It was the same for me, till last Friday. On that day I was at the Maison de la Chimie in Paris, where I heard the explanation by a person who discovered quasi-crystals – Professor Dan Shechtman from Technion. Even this complicated question could be explained I very simple terms, even I could understand it (Ihope!) But it took to professor Shectman about 10 years to convince the academic community that his discovery was real. And 20 more years to get the Nobel Prize in November 2011…

Professor Shechtman at the Maison de la Chimie

What he discovered in 1982 was that the not all crystals are periodic, meaning that their atoms are ordered in a periodic structure. The community of crystallographers refused to accept his finding that would hatter the scientific “truth” that was hold for 70 years. The explanations of Prof. Shectman were crystal clear, not quasi-clear. However, the most prominent experts preferred for many years to reject his discovery, blaming him for quasi-science. While he was trying for years explain that his discovery was made possible thanks to the new tool he used in his work: electro-magnetic microscope instead of X-rays.

At the end of his lecture at Maison de la Chimie, he shared his own conclusion about the 5 most important things that made possible his discovery: electro-magnetic microscope, professionalism, tenacity, self-confidence and courage.

And I just thought to myself that with the exception of microscope, the four other elements are required in any endeavor…

Needless to say, I was proud to have this picture...

And one last word about Technion, who celebrates 100 years since its establishment in 1912 – Shectman’s Nobel Prize was third for Technion, in the last 7 year. In Technion, they definitely may have something to teach us about tenacity, professionalism and self-confidence!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Digital diplomacy in Paris – workshop and panel

Bernard Valero, Spokesperson
French Foreign Ministry

Last week the embassy of Israel in Paris, France, hosted an international workshop on the digital diplomacy. It was first such experience for us in the Israeli embassy, but what I learnt from our guests during the workshop was that it was also the case for many of them. While diplomats discuss this topic with their counterparts occasionally, the idea of workshop was to create the platform of professional discussion and exchange between diplomats, web-specialists, journalists and bloggers.

Richard Volodarski
web-agency Linkeo
Since I came to Paris year and half ago, I contacted many of my counterparts, spokespeople from different embassies to learn how they use social media in their communication work in France. I discovered that while a few embassies are quite active in this field, like the US and Estonian embassies, others were hesitant, either on the personal level, or because of their headquarters’ lack of encouragement. At the same time, many diplomats expressed their interest to learn from the experience of others.
That’s how I realized there’s a potential for this workshop. My Estonian and US colleagues supported the idea and became partners in this project.

Paul Patin, Spokesperson
US embassy in France
So what did we have on February 8 in our embassy? It was an honor for to host our first speaker, Bernard Valero, the Head of the Communications’ Department and Spokesperson of the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs. The Quai d’Orsay is one of the most advanced ministries of Foreign Affaires in the digital diplomacy, I know this firsthand: more than 100.000 twitter followers, internet-conferences for journalists every two days, state of the art website of the Ministry…

Sigrid Kristenprun
Spokesperson, embassy of Estonia
Our second speaker was Richard Volodarski of the Linkeo web-agency. Richard shared with some insights about the social media in France and in general. How many people use social media in France? How we look after target audiences? What is the importance of digital presence for embassies? How make it successful? All these questions were discussed, and even if not answered, the participants were intrigued by some of the dilemmas and perspectives he introduced.

And this is me
After it three presentations were done by the Estonian, US and Israel embassies. We’ve learnt that the Estonian embassy is exploring Facebook, the US embassy is working also on Twitter and is especially pro-active in Youtube, and we are making inroads into the blogosphere. While we could see differences in our approaches, it was clearly the conclusion of all the speakers: we need more independence from HQ and more immediate responses if we want our embassies’ digital presence to be efficient and significant.

I believe it was first, but not the last workshop on digital diplomacy: the best way to learn is by sharing practices and methods. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Diplomacy in the age of social media - My interview to RFI

On Friday I was interviewed to the Radio France International about Digital Diplomacy. The interview is in English.Thank you to my host, Vladimir Smekhov


Friday, January 27, 2012

Arab revolutions and its impact on Israel

In January 2012 Tunisia and Egypt marked the first year since the beginning of the civil uprising. Libya is still longing for return to the normal life after civil war. Syrian regime is waging war against its own people, and the outcome is still unclear. Despite the fact that all these developments are still underway, one thing is obvious: Middle East is becoming a different place from what it was. And what is even more important: it becomes different place from how we used to think about it.
In Israel we were and still are quite concerned with these developments. After all, it's our neighborhood. So, where do we stand today regarding the impact of the Arab spring on us in Israel?

I remember that in the first months after the events in Tahrir square, some experts were talking about the silence of Israeli officials in the face of the democratic revolutions taking place throughout the Middle East. Some of them even accused Israel of being insensitive to the democratic aspirations of the Arab people and of preferring the pseudo-stability of autocratic regimes. Many diplomats, especially in Europe, were saying to us that Israel better adapt to the new reality, solve quickly the conflict with the Palestinians and embrace the democratic aspirations of its neighbors.

Well, actually we did it. President Peres, PM Netanyahu and other officials welcomed the spirit of openness and democracy that characterized the first months of these movements. However, our declarations were not heard, and instead the media highlighted the fears of the Israelis and presented Israel as lagging behind the developments.

And where do we stand now? After the impressive victories of the Islamic parties in Tunisia, then in Egypt, many people started to raise their concerns. It's not that the Arab countries cannot become democracies. Today it’s obvious that this process could take much more time, may be decades, and that the elections are only the beginning of the process, not the final stage.

After the violent takeover of the Israeli embassy in Cairo and the calls "Death to the Jews!" greeting the arrival of Hamas leader to Tunisia, we definitely are reminded that in the new Middle East the old hatred of Israel and the Jews did not disappear. Old habits are the most difficult to get rid of. Arabs were educated and brainwashed for 60 years that there is only one source for all their problems: it's Israel. The same regimes that were ready to have "cold peace" with Israel, allowed internally the anti-Semitic propaganda against Israel in order to release the social and economic pressure.

And at this point we can realize the major breakthrough in this vicious circle of the Middle-eastern politics: Arab revolutions symbolize the first departure from the totalitarian logic of the scapegoat. It's this realization of the Arab people that the source of their plight is not external, but internal. It's the autocratic regimes, their corruption and complete lack of sound social and economic policy that are to be blamed, and not a small country of 7 million people that struggles for its survival.

The second positive change was that the forces that try to utilize the Israel-Palestinian conflict for their domination today are coerced to deal with the real problems of the Middle East. Hezbollah has retreated into the shelters; Syrian regime is struggling with unprecedented protest from within and isolation in the Arab league from outside. And Iran is afraid to loose its last Arab ally. Hamas who was smart to dissociate itself from Assad's regime, is looking for new sponsors, between Egypt and Qatar, and in a meantime, prefers to keep quite.

Of course, the situation is far from ideal. The instability in Egypt and Libya has created zones that are not fully controlled by the authorities, which led to the smuggling of weapons and the terrorist acts from Sinai Peninsula. The collapse of Syrian regime could result in transfer of unconventional weapons and missiles to Hezbollah. And Iran, despite the sanctions and the threat to loose an ally, is coming closer to the nuclear ability. All these considerations lead us to the same conclusion we made a year ago: we need patience and prudence. To make dramatic steps during the regional turmoil, before we could see the light in the end of tunnel, is irresponsible.

The chances to make miscalculation during this period are higher. Wrong decisions based on bad estimation could lead to another crisis in this vulnerable situation. An example for this kind of miscalculation is the decision of the PA to not negotiate with Israel, in the hope that in the future they can get better bargaining position. Why? Arab countries are going to deal with their social and economic condition and political stabilization which they consider their first priority.

However, the unilateral strategy of PA is seduced its leaders to make multilateral diplomacy instead of bringing the independence to their people. Well, maybe they feel they can allow this little privilege, since the socio-economic conditions of Palestinians are much better than that of their brothers in the neighboring countries. After all, the only place where people did not have any incentive to go to streets and protest is the West Bank. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

No conditions, no taboos - Let's just sit down and talk

Yigal Palmor, spokesperson of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, uses Youtube to explain why Palestinian unilateral bid for statehood is wrong and leas nowhere.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Israel as a scapegoat of the Arab World: Nothing new under the sun

Editorial Board Opinion of Washington Post. There is no better way to explain the September initiative of the Palestinian Authority.

Once again, Israel is scapegoated

ISRAELIS WORRY that the Arab Spring is turning from a popular movement against dictatorship into another assault on the Jewish state, and their worry is not unfounded. Last week in Cairo a mob attacked the Israeli Embassy, forcing the evacuation of the ambassador and most of his staff; the previous week the Israeli ambassador to Turkey was expelled. Later this month Palestinians are expected to introduce aresolution on statehood at the United Nations, and Israel could be further isolated if, as expected, a large majority of the General Assembly votes in favor of it.

There’s little doubt that plenty of Arabs and Turks are angry at Israel. But it’s worth noting that, as often is the case in the Middle East, those passions are being steered by governments.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who aspires to regional leadership, has directed a campaign against the government of Benjamin Netanyahu and stoked it with incendiary statements. Mr. Erdogan is furious that a U.N. investigation concluded that Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, and thus its intervention to stop a Turkish-led flotilla last year, was legal. He also finds it convenient to lambaste Israel rather than talk about neighboring Syria, where daily massacres are being carried out by a regime Mr. Erdogan cultivated.
The assault on the embassy in Cairo has been condemned by the leaders of Egypt’s popular revolution and by some leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. Both they and Western diplomats blame the ruling military for failing to secure the embassy, and they suspect the omission may have been part of an effort to divert rising public unrest toward a familiar target.
In the West Bank, polls have shown that President Mahmoud Abbas’s U.N. statehood initiative is regarded as a low priority by the majority of Palestinians, 60 percent of whom said the better option was resuming direct negotiations with Israel. But Mr. Abbas fears he may be the next target of popular uprising; the U.N. gambit appears aimed in part at preempting that.
This is not to say the trend is benign. Israel is looking more isolated than at any time in decades. It is more than a hapless bystander: Mr. Netanyahu’s government could have avoided a crisis with Turkey had it been willing to apologize for the deaths of nine Turks during the interception of the flotilla, which the U.N. panel rightly judged to be an excessive use of force. An incident in which five Egyptian guards were killed when Israeli forces pursued terrorists crossing the border helped to trigger the upsurge in tensions with Cairo. And Mr. Netanyahu’s slowness to embrace reasonable parameters for Palestinian statehood provided Mr. Abbas with a pretext for his U.N. initiative.
It nevertheless is in the interest of Western governments, as well as of Israel, to resist the counterproductive and irresponsible initiatives of Mr. Abbas and Mr. Erdogan. In Egypt, the military has cited the attack on the Israeli Embassy as a pretext to apply emergency laws and censor the media; those, too, are steps in the wrong direction. The core demands of the Arab Spring have nothing to do with Israel: They are about ending authoritarian rule and modernizing stagnating societies. Scapegoating Israel will not satisfy the imperative for change.