Israeli School Trips to Poland Jeopardized by Foreign Ministry Strike

Staffers refuse to issue diplomatic passports to security guards; court won’t intervene.

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The ongoing partial strike by Foreign Ministry employees, which interfered with arrangements for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Poland in June, among other diplomatic activities, now threaten educational trips to Poland scheduled for 17 groups of Israeli high school students in August.

Education Ministry officials met on Tuesday with tour operators after the Jerusalem Labor Court refused on Monday to order ministry employees to issue diplomatic passports for the security guards that are required to accompany the groups.

Ministry officials said they are working on a solution but unless one is found the trips could be canceled.

Nearly 1,000 students have already paid for their trips, which cost more than NIS 5,000 per person. The students and their parents fear that if the trips are canceled they won’t get a refund; the tour operators have said the cancelation fee is 100 percent of the price of the trip.

Miriam Gottlieb, coordinator of the Poland trip for the high school in Modi’in, said: “Other than the financial aspect, this is a very important activity that the students have been planning for about a year. The Foreign Ministry employees are holding the students and their parents hostage.”

Foreign Ministry staffers began their sanctions in March, against salary erosion and what they call “the dissolution 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. Sanctions include refusal to issue diplomatic passports to ministers, shutting down cable communications between Israeli missions abroad and the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem and refusal to arrange official visits of Israeli cabinet ministers abroad.

In addition to the difficulties in arranging Netanyahu’s recent visit to Poland, the sanctions have also hindered efforts by the Civil Service Commission’s senior appointments committee to obtain information from Hong Kong officials about the shoplifting affair involving Jacob Frenkel, who was tapped by Netanyahu as the next governor of the Bank of Israel until his withdrawal earlier this week.

Israeli high-school students at Auschwitz during a Holocaust May. Credit: AP