The beginning of Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom’s term in office was promising.
He was attentive, demonstrated a quick grasp and openness, and invited the two Dans, Ambassador to the United States Ayalon and U.N.envoy Gillerman, to Israel in order to gain an in-depth of understanding of Israel’s standing in America.
Ayalon asked Shalom to come to Washington at least every three months, and to maintain regular contact with U.S. administration officials.
Shalom had a highly successful first visit to the American capital. (Then Secretary of State Colin) Powell held a luncheon in his honor, he met with President Bush, and so on. In short, the red carpet treatment.
Yet, gradually, the relationship soured. The Americans, as opposed to the Israelis, do not tend to explain why they have erased one from their lists. They simply stop returning phone calls and say their schedule is overbooked when they’re asked for a meeting.
And that’s what happened, regrettably, to Silvan Shalom.
The positions he adopted may have disappointed the administration. Maybe there were other reasons. But other Israeli ministers have had a merry old time in Washington.
One senior Foreign Ministry official told us this week that after failing to use his contacts to arrange meaningful meetings for Shalom, he turned to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s advisor Dov Weisglass and told him: “Silvan will think I’m no good and that I can’t arrange even one respectable meeting for him. You have to help me.”
Gradually, the minister stopped listening. He knew enough.
A European foreign minister who attempted to explain his country’s sensitive security situation to his Israeli counterpart was deeply insulted to find his Israeli counterpart uninterested.
At home, ministry officials complained about their boss' impatience. Indeed, he made a habit of hurling cell phones at his aides, so they would answer calls.
Over time, the aides developed special phone-catching talents - a sports still not included in the Olympics.
Moreover, during the Shalom era, two more Foreign Ministry promotion tracks joined the regular advancement path: connections in the Likud Central Committee, and ties with the minister’s wife.
Not only the 11 political appointments that are allowed to come from outside the ministry, but professional appointments as well.
Indeed, the minister has exhausted the appointment committees with his candidates.
For instance, one diplomat in an Israeli embassy in the Far East presented his candidacy for the post of ambassador in a nearby country. The professional ranks at the ministry staunchly resisted the appointment, and still do.
But Shalom zealously backs the appointment. Senior officials at the ministry are convinced the candidate’s main qualification is his connection to the Likud Central Committee.
Another diplomat sought an appointment at one of the Israeli missions in the United States. More senior diplomats gave him a piece of advice: “Talk to Judy" (Shalom's wife, Judy Shalom Nir-Mozes).
Pulverizing the ministry
Foreign Ministry officials are designed to absorb insults. When they serve abroad, they learn to offer a smile in the face of harsh criticism of policies they had no part in formulating.
Once they’re in Israel, they are confined to boring work, disconnected from the centers of influence, within the splendid walls of the new office.
They say that during the early 1950s, Foreign Ministry workers were euphoric. Later, that too was gone. But never, even at times when Foreign Ministers held views that were difficult to defend in the world, was there such depression at the ministry.
“He’s pulverizing us,” said one senior official this week, sticking to a now unofficial, but unmistakeable, policy of anonymity.