Ratcheting Up Strike, Foreign Ministry Union Threatens to Disrupt Italian PM's Visit to Israel

Italy's Prime Minister Enrico Letta, who is facing his own battle against Italian unions, reportedly insists the visit go ahead as planned, to avoid appearance of giving in to strikers.

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The Foreign Ministry workers committee threatened Thursday to disrupt the upcoming visit of Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta as part of the diplomats’ labor action. A source at the Foreign Ministry said workers committee chairman Yair Fromer had phoned Italy’s ambassador to Israel, Francesco Talo, on Thursday to convey the message.

Fromer told the Italian ambassador that in light of the strike, Israeli diplomats would refrain from handling Letta’s visit, which was due to commence on Monday, just as they had refrained from handling the visits of other foreign dignitaries during the strike. “It is not right to hold a visit like this without the involvement of the Foreign Ministry and I wanted to inform you that other disruptions could occur during the visit,” Fromer told the envoy.

Earlier this week, Foreign Ministry employees attempted to disrupt the visit of the Georgian prime minister. They held demonstrations along the road the Georgian prime minister’s car was to pass through and tried to delay arrival arrangements at Ben Gurion International Airport.

The visit was arranged almost single-handedly by Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin.

Fromer told the Italian ambassador that attempts to disrupt Letta’s visit were not intended as hostility toward him, but rather to convey a message to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yair Lapid. He asked the ambassador to convey that message to Letta.

The ambassador told Fromer that the sanctions were making it very difficult to arrange the visit and that he would convey Fromer’s message to Letta.

Foreign Ministry officials said that over the past few days Israeli embassy personnel in Rome had proposed that the Italians postpone Letta’s visit until after the strike. However, Letta, who is now waging a struggle against labor unions in Italy, has reportedly insisted that the visit take place, so as not to appear to give in to the strikers.

Talks between the Finance Ministry and the workers committee over the improvement of the diplomats’ conditions are to resume Sunday after an impasse and mutual recriminations over more than two weeks. Elkin, together with Labor Party MKs Isaac Herzog and Nachman Shai have intervened to persuade treasury officials and the workers to return to the table.

The workers committee announced this week that they were ratcheting up sanctions, the latest of which, instituted on Wednesday, was to immediately stop all protocol activity vis-à-vis foreign diplomats both in Israel and abroad. The instruction appeared in a cable sent to all Israeli diplomats in Israel citing, “the foot-dragging of the Finance Ministry regarding the labor dispute in the Foreign Ministry.”

These measures will mean that no official entry visas to Israel will be issued, no diplomat’s identification documents will be issued, diplomats’ possessions and cars will not be released from customs, and credentials will not be issued to foreign diplomats and military attachés.

The summer months are when diplomatic corps personnel serving in Israel come and go, said a statement from the workers committee. “Every year some 20 percent of diplomats end their service here. That is 1,000 people. We are taking this step for lack of choice and lack of cooperation on the part of the Finance Ministry, and regret the harm to our diplomatic colleagues."

Striking Foreign Ministry workers, June 25, 2013.Credit: Emil Salman
Italy's Prime Minister Enrico Letta Credit: Reuters
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Striking Foreign Ministry workers, June 25, 2013.Credit: Emil Salman
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Striking Foreign Ministry workers, June 25, 2013.Credit: Emil Salman
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Striking Foreign Ministry workers, June 25, 2013.Credit: Emil Salman