Israel Hurt by
Knesset’s Diplomatic PR Failure

Published July 14, 2005 Revised April 28, 2007

As an interested viewer of Knesset proceedings I cringe in dismay whenever an overseas parliamentary delegation pays an official visit to the Knesset. Firstly because the Knesset will be 80% to 95% empty – usually explained away by the busyness of members on pressing matters.

This feeble excuse doesn’t fool anyone least of all the visiting delegations. The disgust of being so unwelcome is all too obvious.

Why Do We Continue A Mindless Tradition?

Since this is the norm one wonders why invitations are extended to overseas delegations to visit the Knesset at all, seeing that the vast majority of members are never (repeat never) there to welcome them? Why do we mindlessly continue a tradition that has so an antagonistic effect?

Busyness does not mitigate the awful reality that members of Israel’s Knesset don’t give a hoot about visiting parliamentary delegations. The look on the faces of the latter as take their seats in the public gallery is one of puzzled astonishment and annoyance as they gaze on the empty seats below.

Disrespect

Fancy being honored by an official invitation to an event which the hosts themselves don’t even bother to attend! Imagine the feelings of an Israeli delegation visiting an European parliament to be met with a sea of vacant seats. They would surely feel dishonored and disrespected. Mutterings of anti-Semitism would undoubtedly be heard. Do we think the skins of visiting delegations are thicker than ours?

But it gets worse.

Noticing his agenda now calls for him to welcome the visitors, the Speaker (or his Deputy) starts reading his speech. He does so as if the delegation is not even present. Though he speaks in Hebrew (naturally) his hearers have mostly not brought along a translator. Nor has the Knesset thoughtfully provided one.

The Speaker reads the speech which has been prepared for him. He drones on from start to finish not lifting his head to look at those he’s welcoming. Were it not for the fact that the name of the country is mentioned a few times during the speech, the delegation would never know it was being addressed. When the Speaker is finished he skips to the next item on the agenda as if that were that. The departing guests are never given a friendly goodbye gesture.

A Smack In The Face

No eye contact. Not a smile of friendship. No sense of importance communicated. No fuss. No bother. No respect. No honor. Not an ounce of goodwill extended. Just a chore to get over and on to the next agenda item.

Indeed most delegations seem not to know when the welcome speech started . . . nor when it was completed. The delegation leader is never even given the elementary courtesy of saying a few words of thanks. They are left to see themselves out without as much as a good-bye wave. They go without members of the delegation having the faintest idea what was said.

Ruby Rivlin’s Welcome Change

Some things however, are changing for the better. Earlier in the year I had the pleasure of witnessing Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin, welcoming guest delegations from Hungary and Japan to the Knesset.

What gave me genuine pleasure was Mr. Rivlin’s inherent appreciation and acknowledgement of the importance of their visits. He paid his respects and extended due honor in his “baruch habah” to each delegation. Rivlin’s friendly delivery and body language made a palpable difference.

Friendly Eye Contact

He made friendly eye contact with the members of each delegation. He smiled his pleasure to his visitors as he addressed them. The appreciative smiles of response from the visitors’ gallery were immediately noticeable. He made them feel important not only in what he said, but how he delivered his message.

On July 4, a delegation from the Romanian Parliament headed by their Foreign Minister was already seated when Rivlin saw that the agenda now required him to make his visitors welcome speech. He was obviously embarrassed because he had been informed that members of the cabinet would be present for his welcome speech. No one was. (He mumbled his confusion into the microphone.)

After waiting a few minutes more, and seeing no help for it, Rivlin launched into his speech. I was extremely pleased to see that a translated copy in Romanian was given to the delegation on this occasion. At least these visitors would know what the Speaker was saying!

Protocol Changes Required

A few simple changes in protocol will help to overcome the problems:

  1. The Knesset should invite a suitable number of expats of the country to be present in the visitors’ gallery.

  2. Unless simultaneous translation is available, each member of the delegation should be given a translated copy of the speech (on Knesset stationery) after they are seated.

  3. Let the Speaker stand for his first few words of welcome. And let these be delivered, if possible, in the language of the visiting delegation.

  4. Let the Speaker stand for his parting words – also to be given in the delegation’s language.

  5. Provide a microphone in the visitor’s gallery for the leader of the delegation to respond if he wishes.

  6. If the Speaker cannot be present, let him appoint a specific Deputy drilled in carrying out the proper welcoming etiquette.

Friendship Opportunities Missed

Overseas parliamentary delegations can be very important to Israel’s good standing in a world where we have far too few friends. In addition to Japan, Hungary and Romania already mentioned, a number of important parliamentary delegations visited during the past 18 months:

• Foreign ministers of Germany, France, Greece, Norway, Finland, and Austria.

• The president of the Turkish parliament and the defense and agriculture ministers.

• The Finnish foreign minister.

• The Swiss prime minister and members of the Swiss parliament.

• The Ukrainian interior minister.

• The President of Moldova, interior, foreign and economics ministers.

Israel cannot afford to be indifferent to opportunities for increased friendship. We dare not send these delegations away fuming at being so dishonored. We must ensure a pleasant memory for each foreign mission’s official visit to the Knesset.

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