The slowdown declared by Foreign Ministry employees demanding pay hikes is taking its toll on those who want to use diplomatic passports, including retired politician Ehud Barak.
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The exceptions committee of the ministry's employees' union is flooded with letters by present and past politicians requesting to be exempted from the slowdown and issued diplomatic passports. One of the letters received recently was sent by former prime minister and defense minister Ehud Barak.
Barak, who currently lectures for pay at international conferences, is planning to travel to Russia on June 20, with his wife. The couple intended to use their diplomatic passports.
As opposed to ordinary citizens, who do not need visas to visit Russia, the holders of diplomatic passports are asked to apply for visas at the Russian embassy in Tel Aviv.
"I request a letter of recommendation from the Foreign Ministry to the Russian Embassy in Israel, so that I shall receive visas for my wife and myself, since we plan to travel to Russia with our diplomatic passports," Barak wrote. "I'm aware that you are now on strike and that is why I'm appealing to the exceptions committee. This trip is important."
The Foreign Ministry union examined Barak's request but rejected it. A source in the union said it was explained to Barak that since he is not a Foreign Ministry employee, his request would not be granted.
"We reminded Mr. Barak that ordinary Israeli citizens do not need a visa to visit Russia and recommended that he fly to Moscow with his regular passport, just like every other citizen," the source said.
Foreign Ministry employees and representatives of several other ministries need diplomatic passports for their work. But many other senior officials, judges and present and past politicians hold diplomatic passports as well.
Apart from being a status symbol, diplomatic passports allow their holders to skip many procedures at airports, receive personal treatment and be spared standing in line with other passengers. Contrary to popular belief, diplomatic passports do not grant diplomatic immunity to holders who are not diplomats.
Last week, Haaretz revealed that the Foreign Ministry slowdown almost caused the cancelation of a visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and six other ministers to Poland on June 12. Netanyahu's office took the irregular step of trying to break the strike by directing the Israel Defense Forces military attaché in Warsaw to organize the trip in place of the Foreign Ministry.
The Foreign Ministry union formally approached the Polish government and requested that it postpone the summit.
"This is improper conduct, and we shall not let it pass," sources in the union said. "Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must negotiate with the workers instead of using the IDF and security apparatuses against them."
Israel's ambassador to Poland, Zvi Rav-Ner, wrote an official letter to Polish Deputy Foreign Minister, Jiri Pominovsky, briefing him on the labor dispute and noting that the strike was supported by the Histradrut labor federation.
"On behalf of our union, I appeal you to examine the possibility of postponing such an important event as this inter-governmental meeting to a later date immediately after the dispute is solved," Rav-Ner wrote. "We're very sorry for this inconvenience but I wish to stress that this labor dispute has no aim to damage the relations between the two countries."
The Israeli ambassador ended his letter on a sentimental note, saying, "Recalling that Poland was the land that gave birth to"solidarity" and that it takes pride in the activity of united labor unions, I hope you will understand our current situation and continue the excellent cooperation between our various institutions."