Yiftah CURIEL: "Potential of digital diplomacy is immense"; Ran GIDOR: "Women belong in all places where decisions are made"

global focus
voices of Israeli Foreign Ministry
Caucasian Journal from time to time presents to our readers articles which focus on issues of a wider international importance. Today under our "GLOBAL FOCUS" Caucasian Journal gives floor to the Israeli diplomats.
The subjects they cover reflect important aspects of Israeli foreign policy: Use of latest "cutting edge" technologies, and adherence to decades-proven "classic" achievements accumulated by humanity. While Yiftah CURIEL of Israeli Foreign Ministry talks about digital diplomacy in the COVID era, Ran GIDOR – Israeli Ambassador to Georgia – remembers the anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution urging to increase women's decision-making in the sphere of peace and security.
Yiftah CURIEL: "The potential of digital diplomacy is immense"

Mr. Yiftah CURIEL is Director of Department for Digital Diplomacy at Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel.

Alexander KAFFKA, editor-in-chief of Caucasian Journal: Dear Yiftah, welcome to Caucasian Journal! As you are the head of Israel’s digital diplomacy, do you agree that wider digitalization is one of main ways to survive, especially in the era of COVID?

Yiftah CURIEL: Hello, and thank you for this interview, providing this opportunity to speak with your audience. Absolutely, I think that although digitalization, and specifically digital diplomacy, has been rapidly expanding over the last few years, COVID and the need to connect from afar, has accelerated this process. We have seen on our digital platforms a significant rise in the number of followers, people that want to connect with Israel, from tourists to businesspeople to religious pilgrims, and we've tried to accommodate them by providing content, a way to interact with us that would alleviate some of the difficulties of not being able to connect face to face. 
AK: I understand that you have started to develop digital diplomacy before the COVID, but the pandemics have greatly accelerated your efforts – is that correct? How did the situation in your field change – do you feel more demand, more attention? I am sure you do not need to explain now what’s you job about…

YC: Yes, as I mentioned, we've experienced a significant increase in digital activities of the past few months. We've tried to create content that speaks to what people are interested in today. For example, showing what Israel was doing to fight Corona, on the medical level, as well as how ordinary people were coping. We created virtual tours of Jerusalem and other holy sites, for pilgrims who could not make the trip this year. We also posted messages of solidarity from the Israeli people with those that were experiencing hardship due to Corona.

AK: Could you share any achievements or examples or Israeli digital diplomacy so far?

YC: One of the things we’re most proud of is our activity in Arabic and Persian. Using channels in those two languages, we are able to reach millions of people across the Middle East, in places where Israel has no diplomatic representation. We are able to connect directly with people in these countries, sharing information about Israel, showing them the solutions that Israel is developing to the region's challenges, from medicine to water scarcity to agriculture, to security concerns emanating from Iran and its terrorist proxies. The Arabic and Persian channels reach millions each week, enabling us to bypass hostile traditional media and governments, and interact directly with people who see in Israel a partner, an integral part of the region.

AK: I know that diplomats are quite a conservative trade, adhering to centuries’ old traditions. So, what about digital diplomacy in other countries? Is it becoming a global trend, or still a novice among your colleagues worldwide?

YC: Digital diplomacy is definitely a global trend, but it's true that some MFAs are very advanced while others are still beginning the process of adopting these technologies. Part of what we do today is conduct digital diplomacy dialogues and training sessions, in order to exchange best practices, learn from our friends and colleagues, and undertake joint digital campaigns on issues of mutual interest.

AK: What’s the potential of digital democracy, in your opinion? Where must it be applied to ensure maximum yield? Do you foresee any concrete international problems, which could become your next “targets”?

YC: The potential of digital diplomacy is immense, in my opinion, as a working tool for every diplomat. The relative edge of a diplomat is that he creates relationships with the 1,000 most important people in the country where he's stationed. Using digital diplomacy, he can get to know another 50,000 people, interact with them directly, interest them in what Israel has to offer them, and harness their support in time of crisis. These communities that each of our diplomats around the world is building online, increase the digital influence of the Israeli MFA, to advance ties, promote tourism, economic cooperation, and much more.

AK: Is there anything that digital diplomacy can do, when the guns are already firing?

YC: I believe that using digital diplomacy, you can reach out to audiences, including in times of crisis, in order to influence public opinion, make sure that your narrative is heard, as well as counter fake news and disinformation. We have done this in the course of our conflict with the Hamas terror group in Gaza, in order to show the world how Hamas was firing at Israeli communities while hiding behind Gaza's civilian population, thus committing war crimes both in Israel and in Gaza.

AK: Is Israel prepared to share your know-how in digital diplomacy with other countries, or, perhaps, also learn from your partners’ experience?

YC: We are very happy both to share our experience as well as to learn from our friends. We've had some very fruitful dialogues in Georgia, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Georgian Center for Strategy and Development, and the EU & NATO Information Center. We've made some good friends along the way, and we continue to collaborate and learn from one another. On a personal note, I had the pleasure of visiting Tbilisi a number of times over the past year or two, and I cherish those great experiences. I hope to continue and expand our friendly, fruitful collaboration in the near future.

AK: Thank you very much.
"Women belong in all places where decisions are made": Resolution 1325 at 20 years

H.E. Ran GIDOR is the Israeli Ambassador to Georgia.

The recent escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh and the horrific images of civilian casualties serve as a grim reminder of the heavy toll of violent conflicts on women and children. In Georgia, too, there are up to 300,000 internally displaced (IDP) and conflict-affected persons – over half of whom are women and girls.

30th October marks 20 years since the adoption of the landmark Security Council Resolution 1325. The resolution urged Member States to increase the participation of women at all decision-making levels – national and international alike – in the sphere of peace and security. The first five operational clauses of the resolution “urge” (a strong word in UN terms) more women to participate in peace process negotiations; in conflict resolution; in field-based UN peacekeeping efforts; and call for more women to fill senior UN leadership positions.

UNSCR1325 is a clear statement from the UN’s most prestigious body to the effect that women should be at the table where the most important decisions are made, that women should be in a position to make meaningful contributions to the political process.

Remarkably, the UN system that produces countless resolutions every year, has produced only four resolutions on women's participation in 75 years. Why?

There are two complementary aspects to gender equality: Protection and Participation. The first aspect, protection, is well known: protection against violence, rape, sexual harassment, discrimination at the workplace, etc. Protection is important as it deals with dire and immediate needs, real danger and palpable obstacles. That said, the concept of “protection” fits neatly into the old order of patriarchal thinking, where women are considered a weak and vulnerable group in need of protection. In contrast, participation is less comfortable for many, as it demands the sharing of power and, at time, even for the traditional male patriarchy to relinquish power, or, more concretely, their seat at the table. Participation poses bold, unapologetic questions: how many women are in your government, how many in the army, how many women advisors are there to the prime minister? Given these dynamics the majority of UN resolutions on gender equality remain focused solely on the issue of protection.

Even UNSCR 1325 itself contains a "protective" element. Its second half calls for the protection of women in war, protecting women from conflict-related sexual assault, and the like.

The UN system has made a meaningful effort to comply with the call of 1325, and currently, eight of 17 UN Special Representatives are women, and several reforms have been adopted to increase women’s participation in UN peacekeeping. Nonetheless, it still seems, 20 years later, that the UN and Member States remain more comfortable with adopting and implementing decisions focused on "protection" rather than on crucial “participation” at the highest levels. Indeed, the last UN report (November 2019) summarizing 20 years since the adoption of Resolution 1325, deals almost exclusively with protection. In fact, of the 16 key findings noted in the report, only two deal with the status of women’s participation.

While these issues are certainly vital for gender equity, they are only part of the larger picture. The revolutionary call for participation has been over-shadowed time and again by the more comfortable, traditional “protection” agenda.

In Israel we are proud of our international involvement and contributions on the issue of women’s protection. Israel initiated a groundbreaking resolution on the prevention of sexual harassment at the workplace; offers international training for developing nations on women’s empowerment, and has cutting-edge laws on sexual harassment and domestic violence.

However, on the participation level, an honest overview reveals a mixed picture. In the Israeli judiciary system 51% of the judges are women, including Israel’s Chief Justice. In addition, a recent October 2020 cabinet decision has set a goal that 50% of Israeli civil service most senior staff should be women (currently only 11% hold this rank). On the other hand, the Israeli ministerial cabinet is still predominately male (80%), with the special 10-member “Coronavirus Cabinet” having only 1 female member. There are also only 17 female Israeli ambassadors around the world, out of 103 Israeli heads of mission.

The Government of Georgia has been most diligent in its efforts to advance the Women in Peace & Security (WPS) agenda since 2011, when the first National Action Plan (NAP) adopted. Georgia has also set up an Inter-Agency Commission on Gender Equality, Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, comprised of deputy ministers, civil society and international organization representatives, and entrusted with the implementation, monitoring and coordination of drafting subsequent National Action Plans on these issues (including the third NAP 2018-2020).

Moreover, the recent changes to the electoral system in Georgia enshrined for the first time a ‘gender-quota’ for political parties – a welcome and important step towards increasing participation of women in decision-making processes. However, it still remains to be seen how many female politicians will hold significant portfolios in the next government – especially in ministries concerned with the issues covered by Res.1325.

Even in the 21st century, women are tragically still the habitual victims of international conflicts. Protection is, therefore, critically important - but we must not stop there. Twenty years after Res. 1325, its time to put an emphasis on participation. Georgia’s ‘Golden Age’ is universally associated with the memory and heritage of a female monarch – Queen Tamar. Her example has never been more relevant than today. In the words of the late American Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, "Women belong in all places where decision are being made." Let this be both our national and collective global goal for the next 20 years.

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