Israel's Foreign Ministry Employees Step Up Sanctions, Aim to Ground Ministers' Trips Abroad

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Israel's Foreign Ministry employees have intensified their protest this week, focusing now on efforts to "ground" Israeli ministers' flights abroad as part of a  labor dispute with the government over their eroding salaries.

As part of their protest efforts over the last two months, Foreign Ministry employees at embassies around the world stopped dispatching diplomatic cables from Israeli embassies around the world, launched a protest of the Strategic and Intelligence Affairs Ministry headed by Yuval Steinitz, refrained from issuing diplomatic passports to senior Israeli officials, and scomingto work in jeans and sandals,

The Foreign Ministry Employees Committee issued directives to all staff on Monday in Israel and abroad instructing them to "immediately stop all handling of visits by any ministerial or governmental officials abroad." The directive does not pertain to the prime minister, who is serving as acting foreign minister, nor to Deputy Foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin.

Members of the committee said Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who is slated to fly to Paris at the end of the month, is likely to be the first minister to run into difficulties in arranging his travels. The committee's primary claims are directed at Lapid and his ministry. After Lapid, Minister of Agriculture Yair Shamir's planned trip to Ecuador and Peru may be disrupted by the strike.

In addition to these steps against government ministers, the committee has decided to halt all assistance to emissaries of other government ministries abroad, such as Mossad agents and other intelligence officials in special positions, and envoys of the Economic and Trade Ministry or Defense Ministry representatives.

This means that administrative officers of the various embassies will not be processing the envoys' rents,  or manage the registration of their children in schools, nor providing them with any services, except their salary, medical treatments and emergency assistance.

"The decision was made in light of the stalemate in negotiations and the Finance Ministry's disregard of our demands," the committee said in a statement. "We are in the midst of a severe labor dispute and we will not hesitate to add additional sanctions if our demands are not immediately met and if negotiations do not resume.

For several weeks now, Foreign Ministry employees have been increasing their sanctions in protest of their eroding wages and what they are calling "the fragmentation of the Foreign Ministry." The Israeli diplomats are protesting the fact that no full time foreign minister has been appointed and that several of the ministry's authorities have been distributed among other ministers.

Ministry sources said last month the sticking points include a claim by staff that the terms of employment of diplomats serving abroad have been adversely affected, and that the Foreign Ministry’s status has been diminished by the separate appointment of Yuval Steinitz as minister in charge of international relations.

The staff also contends that there have been delays in the promotion of some ministry staff, that appointment committees that don’t operate transparently, and that procedure for the appointment of some ambassadors and consuls has been improper.

The workers committee is also seeking to have the salaries of employees serving abroad negotiated rather than being set unilaterally by the Finance Ministry’s wage division. With respect to Steinitz’s international affairs portfolio, the committee is taking the position that the new entity is wasteful and unnecessary.

Israel's new government ministers sitting around the 'smart table' on Sunday, April 7, 2013. Credit: Alex Kolomoyski
The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem. No full-time minister, but that hasn't stopped the ministry from producing a video that misses the mark. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

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