JERUSALEM, Israel - Israel's primary enemy is not radical Islam but ignorance, an Israeli government minister said.
Yuli Edelstein, minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, spoke to a group of diplomats and journalists in Jerusalem late last week about the challenges Israel is facing -- not only in conveying its side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also in getting the public to understand the real nature of Israel.
"On the one hand, as far as I'm concerned, the main enemy of the State of Israel is not all these flotilla organizers, radicals -- be it ultra-left or Islamic radicals -- and not some threats in international bodies," Edelstein said.
"I will dare say the main enemy we are facing is ignorance," he said.
According to Edelstein, it's ignorance worldwide that "allows small, well-organized and well-funded groups to sell so easily all these apartheid lies or starvation crisis lies and all these stories that we have then to face not necessarily and only in public diplomacy, but also in classic diplomacy."
Edelstein referred to the international flotilla of ships organized by pro-Palestinian groups (and some say backed and funded by terror organizations) obstensibly to bring humanitarian aid to Palestinians but more to break Israel's naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Israel and many nations say the move is a political one since even the United Nations, which runs refugee camps in Gaza, does not say there is starvation or a humanitarian crisis there.
He also mentioned Israeli Apartheid Week, which calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel in favor of Palestinians.
Edelstein said Israel sent students and young professionals from Israeli minorities, including Arabs, Druze and Ethiopian immigrants, to campuses in the U.S. and Canada before this year's "apartheid week."
The representatives weren't from any specific political background. They were just Israelis from different parts of the country.
"I guess it hurts when they tell you that you live in an apartheid state and you are a university graduate and you're working and you're active in social life and whatever," he said.
Edelstein gave two examples of some of the encounters they had.
In one case, an Israeli Arab woman, who is an engineer from the northern part of the country, was asked why she spoke Arabic. When she said she's an Arab, someone assumed she was a "Jewish Arab," but she replied she is a Muslim.
(Nearly 25 percent of the Israeli population is not Jewish, most of which is Arab. Hebrew and Arabic are Israel's official languages.)
In another instance, someone wondered how an Ethiopian girl could be from Tel Aviv because she's black.
Edelstein said this basic ignorance underlies the perception of Israel when there is talk about the current conflict and political situation.
"One of the main challenges of our ministry…is to create infrastructure that will use all the modern means, the new media, in order to tell the real story of Israel.
"The conflict is there," but that's only part of the picture, he said.