How Ben-Gvir's Europe Day scandal could have been avoided

Opinion: Consultation with the Foreign Ministry could have helped avoid diplomatic incident after EU asked for Ben- Gvir be replaced in their celebration
The diplomatic scandal that arose with the European Union's decision to cancel the Europe Day celebration in Israel, to prevent Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir from delivering a speech at the event, could have been avoided.
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איתמר בן גביר
איתמר בן גביר
Itamar Ben-Gvir
(Photo: Rafi Kotz)
Ben-Gvir was tapped to represent the government by the cabinet secretariat in a rotation of assignments, with no bad intentions. But in actuality, his deployment was a lack of foresight, given the fact that the EU boycotts him and the members of his party Jewish National Front.
The tradition of government ministers attending national events is well-established. Last year, on Europe Day, former Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz represented the government. Because Israel is home to 100 foreign embassies, it's rare that a week goes by in which a reception is not held for the national day of a particular country.
Ministers have tended to steer clear of such chores, so a rotation was established under the responsibility of the cabinet secretariat. Accordingly, the secretariat contacts the minister, asking if they are willing to participate - and in the case of Ben-Gvir, he immediately jumped at the opportunity.
The EU's embassy was humiliated by the far-right minister as the representative of the Israeli government at the event, to which diplomats from around the world and public figures from Israel were invited.
Ben-Gvir himself said that he planned to speak about "the importance of the joint fight against terrorism" and also "to congratulate Europe, to call for strengthening cooperation and to point out that it is appropriate that countries do not fund initiatives against IDF soldiers and Israeli residents," according to his office.
To avoid this scandal, the government secretariat could have consulted with the Foreign Ministry, which certainly would have advised against the assignment. The minister is considered a red flag in the EU - a person who represents everything that the EU stands against.
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בצלאל סמוטריץ' ואיתמר בן גביר
בצלאל סמוטריץ' ואיתמר בן גביר
Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich celebrate the results of the elections last November
(Photo: Yair Sagi)
This was evident in a statement issued earlier on Monday: "We do not want to offer a platform to someone whose views contradict the values the EU stands for." This conflict between the government and the EU, which is boycotting Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, was for nothing.
From the moment it was announced that Ben-Gvir was to represent the government, it was clear that he would not give this up easily. The EU explicitly requested that Israel replace him, but the protocol dictates that only the minister could decide to withdraw - and he insisted on attending the event. The EU had been deliberating on the matter over the past couple of days and understood that their decision would send a very blunt message to the Israeli government.
In the EU, there were actors - mainly from Hungary and Poland - who argued that it was wrong to dismiss Ben-Gvir and that he is a legitimate minister, They argued that the EU shouldn't interfere with the affairs of a foreign country. However, the ambassadors decided that under the circumstances, there was no choice other than to cancel the event.
No Israeli response was expected on the matter, which a senior official at the Foreign Ministry called "a slap in the face to the government." Ben-Gvir himself accused the EU of claiming to represent the values of democracy and multiculturalism but acting undiplomatically. "It is an honor and a right for me to represent the State of Israel, the heroic soldiers of the IDF, and the people of Israel in any forum. Friends know how to express criticism, and true friends know how to listen to it."
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