Middle East


Diplomatic Dust-Up

What began as a routine diplomatic posting in June developed into an embarrassing international controversy pitting the Israeli government against its Danish counterpart. Carmi Gillon, the former head of Israel’s General Security Services (Shin Bet) under the government of the late Yitzhak Rabin, was recently named Israel’s ambassador to Denmark. In a June 24 interview with the independent Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, Gillon was quoted as saying, “Israel may have to resume using ‘moderate physical pressure’ as a means to fight terror.” His comment—referring to methods condemned as torture by human-rights groups—served as the rallying point for an intensive Danish media campaign against Gillon’s appointment. Danish officials at the Foreign Ministry and the Danish justice minister called for the withdrawal of the appointment and threatened to arrest Gillon when he arrived in Denmark to begin his diplomatic mission.

The Israeli press took umbrage at Denmark’s attempts to determine Israeli domestic policy by punitive actions toward a diplomatic appointee. A July 27 editorial in Tel Aviv’s liberal Ha’aretz observed, “Carmi Gillon’s appointment as Israel’s ambassador to Denmark is turning into an affair with dimensions that...spill over into the nature of relations between sovereign states....Israel is a sovereign state, with an open democracy, in which the government’s procedures are exposed to the public, and the political culture includes constant debate....Those people in Denmark and other European countries who, out of either naive purism or hostility to Israel, want to condemn and exile Israel’s emissaries, make it even more difficult for the Israeli public’s efforts to influence institutions in the desirable direction.”

In its July 26 editorial, Tel Aviv’s centrist Yediot Aharonot took a more caustic approach: “In between eating their smorgasbord and watching porno films, the Danes have found time to libel Israel’s ambassador-designate to Copenhagen, Carmi Gillon. Like many others in Europe, the Danes are hypocrites....Those [Palestinians] who were held for investigation were not activists in the service of Mother Teresa.” While the editors asserted that “the State of Israel stands by Gillon,” they nevertheless called on Gillon to step aside and pave the way for a new appointee.

Tel Aviv’s centrist Ma’ariv argued in a July 26 editorial, “An end must be put to this continuing farce.” Calling for Gillon’s appointment to be dropped, the writer declared, “An ambassador is responsible for cultivating relations with the country in which he serves.”

In its coverage of the Gillon story, the right-wing Hatzofeh of Tel Aviv did not miss an opportunity to attack the Israeli human-rights group B’tselem (July 27): “Dov Laksner, chief rabbi of Denmark, accused B’tselem of inciting the Danish government against Gillon.” The article stated that in a July 26 interview with the right-wing radio station Arutz-Sheva, Laksner commented that he is not interested in defending Gillon because there is no chance to justify actions connected with individuals arrested for terrorism. Hatzofeh also reported that the Israeli Foreign Ministry had advised Israelis not to visit countries that could begin legal proceedings against them. The same warning was reported in Yediot Aharonot (July 27) in an article titled “The Foreign Ministry Warns: We Are in Europe’s Gunsights.” Nevertheless, according to Ha’aretz (Aug. 14), although Amnesty International had asked the Danish government to refuse Gillon’s credentials, citing his activities as head of the Shin Bet, he is expected to assume the diplomatic post on Sept. 11.

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