On visit to S.F., Israeli diplomat-turned-critic fires darts at Israels leadership

Ilan Baruch loves his country, and he has the service record — and the eye patch — to prove it.

For some 36 years, Baruch served Israel in various diplomatic posts around the world, including ambassadorships in the Philippines and South Africa. All of that came after he lost an eye fighting for Israel during the War of Attrition with Egypt in the late 1960s.

Over the past few years, however, Baruch’s love for Israel has become clouded with increased frustration over the policies of his government. In fact, in March he resigned from the Foreign Ministry — and has since spoken out against the Netanyahu administration.

During a visit to San Francisco last week, Baruch told j. that Israel today pursues a policy at odds with “the land-for-peace paradigm, and is trying to achieve an interim agreement, while at same time allowing a free hand for [settlers]. That is in contradiction to the interests of Israel.”

Baruch, 62, was in the Bay Area as part of the “Two States Now” summer tour of Israeli security experts, a traveling delegation, sponsored by J Street. He spoke at Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco, and met with J Street supporters and community leaders such as Israeli Consul General Akiva Tor.


Ilan Baruch photo/j street/ronald sachs

Since the tour began, he has met with Jewish community leaders in cities around the country, as well as members of the House and Senate.


He message to policymakers is simple: Israel should immediately “move to a two-state solution. Statements made by President [Barack] Obama discussing security, making reference to the 1967 borders with land swaps, was actually in the interest of the State of Israel.”

Though his tour is sponsored by J Street, Baruch said he would gladly relay the same message to AIPAC or any other Jewish forum. “I’m a member of a loose delegation,” he said. “Each of us speaks for himself.”

Baruch certainly did so in March, when a farewell letter he wrote to his Foreign Ministry colleagues was leaked to the Israeli press.

In that letter, he expressed anger over the breakdown of talks with the Palestinians, and with what he pegged as disinterest on the part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to clinch a peace deal.

“For about a day and a half, I was a media star,” he said. “It is a given that in Israel we always wash our [dirty] laundry in public. The public scene in Israel is intensely filled with controversy, accusation. So my case was really washed down quite quickly.”

He said at the time that “Israel’s foreign policy is wrong” when it came to Palestinian affairs, and he warned that his country could indeed become the pariah state Israel’s detractors claim it to be.

He said that in recent years, he began to feel frustrated that as a person working in diplomatic circles, he had to bite his tongue and not say anything negative about “a government pursuing a policy I could not support.”

His main complaints: Netanyahu’s de facto dismissals of the so-called “road map to peace” and the Arab Peace Initiative, and Lieberman’s statements that there was no future for the peace process.

“That was very unhelpful,” Baruch said of Lieberman’s stance. “We urgently need to go back into the negotiating room. Israel needs to maintain open channels with the Palestinian Authority and promote informal dialogue. The government, particularly Lieberman, object to any form of dialogue beyond military coordination and administrative channels.”

Baruch stressed that his criticisms of Netanyahu and Lieberman are not personal. He acknowledged that both were fairly elected, and he accedes to the voice of the Israeli people.

He also admitted he caught a lot of heat for his public resignation, which was quite unusual for someone from the diplomatic corps.

Prior to stepping down, he was Israel’s roving ambassador to Namibia, Botswana and Zambia. Other appointments included positions in Israeli embassies in London, Copenhagen and Singapore. He also led the Bureau for Middle Eastern Economic Affairs, and served as director of the Palestinian Autonomy Division within the ministry.

No longer constrained by diplomatic decorum, Baruch is free to speak his mind. In recent months he has joined the protests in east Jerusalem’s Sheik Jarrah neighborhood against what activists call an Israeli land grab in which Arab citizens lose their homes.

Yet he is quick to admonish his detractors, who may question his loyalty.

“I’m a Zionist, devoted to Israel and no less a patriot than the prime minister,” he said. “I refuse to be pushed out of the frame of Zionist patriot. I am within that frame, though in opposition to the views of the current government.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.