If Israel has decided to jump on board with the season of goodwill this Christmas, it certainly has a funny way of showing it. Increasingly isolated on the international stage, and having presided over a catalogue of foreign policy blunders and diplomatic failures, the Netanyahu government’s attempt at gold, frankincense and myrrh this holiday season has reinforced its position as the custodians of a nation that built an eleven-foot wall through the middle of Jesus’ birthplace, rather than embodying his message of love.
At a time when it might have seemed prudent to build a few bridges and extend a Middle-Eastern olive branch, the Netanyahu administration has instead decided to be as aggravating as possible. On the issue of settlement building in particular, it appears the favoured strategy is to rub it in the faces of the international community as much as possible, in the hope that if they are beaten with that stick enough times they might just learn to love it.
First came the announcement that all of Israel’s presents to Barack Obama from Tel Aviv’s US ambassador had been produced in settlements. This politically charged Christmas stocking would feature olive oil, wine, body cream and halva, all produced in Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and the Golan Heights, the Israeli embassy bragged to any news outlet that would listen. The alleged logic behind this decision, announced in an angry letter attached to the gift, was that it was specifically intended to combat the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement that has gained considerable traction in the past year. In the region where “women are treated as chattel, gay are hanged, minorities are decimated and Christians are decapitated”, Israel upholds democratic values and has therefore “passed that test with flying colours for the past 67 years”. The European Union’s treatment of Israel is “shameful”, the letter cries, and amounts to “efforts by Israel’s enemies to destroy the one and only Jewish state”. They are “fools”! Merry Christmas!
The claim that gifts made on land stolen from Syrian and Palestinians specifically combats BDS ignores the reality that BDS aims to boycott goods from all of Israel, not just its illegal colonies. Now I know that Christmas isn’t necessarily high on a list of Israeli priorities, but as a nation who consistently use religious sensitivity as a justification for virtually anything, no matter how far detached it might actually be, giving someone a gift manufactured in a way they have declared illegal under international law doesn’t necessarily send a strong signal of peace and goodwill. I may not be an expert in international relations, but it seems obvious that drawing attention to your violations of international law through a passive-aggressive Christmas gift that simultaneously claims you uphold the highest democratic values is a declaration of hypocrisy almost farcical in its monumental absurdity. This Christmas I’m sure the Obamas will be hoping the ambassador also left them the receipt.
Israel’s Christmas crusade doesn’t stop there however, as it has doubled down on efforts to plough like a steamroller head-on into Brazil by appointing a former head of the Jewish settler movement as its ambassador. Brazil has previously angered Israel by recognising Palestinian statehood, causing an Israeli official to brand the BRICS nation a “diplomatic dwarf”, for which they were later forced to apologise in yet another international blunder. In the case of the settler ambassador, Brazil’s reluctance to accept their nominee has resulted in direct threats from Israel, whose Deputy Foreign Minister said:
“The State of Israel will leave the level of diplomatic relations with Brazil at the secondary level if the appointment of Dani Dayan is not confirmed”
This is hardly likely to win back Brazil’s friendship. Whether or not Brazil chooses to accept Israel’s controversial choice of ambassador, these latest incidents are part of a pattern of foreign policy aggression that has left Israel increasingly isolated on the international stage. Sledgehammer diplomacy has put Israel on a repeated collision course with anyone and everyone, catastrophically failing to avert the Iran Deal despite millions spent on political lobbying in America and also failing to disrupt a European Union settlement labelling policy. The problem for Israel is that their rhetoric of victimhood is wearing increasingly thin as they repeatedly refuse to co-operate, collaborate or compromise. Politically motivated Christmas gifts with angry, ranting letters attached, or questionable political appointments that deliberately highlight points of contention are not going to win foreign powers round to your way of thinking; quite the reverse in fact. The Netanyahu era has been a catalogue of foreign policy blunders, but as things continue to unravel for Israel, becoming increasingly hawkish and angry is not going to fulfil any of the items on Israel’s Christmas list. Instead, the Israeli government must stop behaving like a spoilt child if it wants to stay off the naughty list.