Some 50 Foreign Ministry employees protested in front of the Shin Bet security service headquarters in North Tel Aviv on Wednesday morning, charging that the service's agents were assisting in breaking the diplomats' strike, which has been going on for four months. "The Shin Bet is a collaborator," read a sign held by one of the diplomats.
The Foreign Ministry employees decided to hold the protest in light of the fact that the Shin Bet was the leading, and perhaps the only, force in the security apparatus that was helping to break the diplomatic slowdown. The Shin Bet organized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's official visit to Poland a few weeks ago in place of the striking Foreign Ministry employees, and has continued to process and organize official visits of foreign leaders to Israel, something normally done by Foreign Ministry employees.
Shin Bet officials made efforts to get the strike called off or at least to have it held further away from the gates of its headquarters. The chairman of the Foreign Ministry Diplomatic Workers' Union, Yair Frommer, said that early Tuesday evening he received a call from police officials coordinating the demonstration.
"The police asked us to move the demonstration somewhere else, further away from the entrance gate," he said. "As I understand it, the Shin Bet was under pressure and tried to undermine the demonstration, but in the end the strike is legal and the country is democratic."
Foreign Ministry workers did not argue too much with the police and moved their demonstration some 250 meters from the gate. Despite being moved away, it is a safe bet that several workers sitting in their offices clearly heard the shouts of the diplomats' megaphones coming from the adjacent hill. Slogans included, "The Shin Bet is breaking a strike" as a play on the Hebrew phrase that refers to breaking the silence, and, "Wake up, Bibi, the Foreign Ministry is in crisis."
Parallel to the demonstration outside the Shin Bet headquarters, representatives from the Finance Ministry, the diplomats' union and the Histadrut labor federation met in Jerusalem to work out a compromise. The sides plan to hold marathon talks in the coming days but at this juncture see no solution on the horizon.
"We don't want our strike to cause damage, but we also want the Foreign Ministry to continue to exist," said Fromer. "Without a professional foreign service, Israel won't be able to cope properly with its challenges on the international stage. We presented our demands to the Finance Ministry, and now we are waiting to hear solutions."