Yair Lapid's High Noon on Facebook

Finance Minister Yair Lapid triggers a string of harsh Facebook comments by bringing up Holocaust remembrance trips against striking Foreign Ministry workers.

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A head-on clash took place on Facebook on Tuesday between Finance Minister Yair Lapid and dozens of Foreign Ministry employees who have been on a partial strike for the past five months. Lapid accused the diplomats in a post on his wall of disrupting Foreign Ministry work at the expense of "children who are traveling to the Marches of the Living at Aushwitz and Birkenau."

Foreign Ministry employees did not sit back diplomatically and turn the other cheek: They posted vitriolic comments in reply. 

Foreign Ministry workers are demanding better wages, which they say have eroded severely over the years and better conditions while on assignment overseas. Union leaders accuse Finance Ministry officials who controls the Foreign Ministry budget of rejecting compromise, despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's directive to find a solution.

The diplomats are refusing to handle official visits abroad of senior Israeli officials as well as the visits of foreign leaders to Israel. They have also stopped issuing diplomatic passports and almost completely stopped helping Israeli citizens overseas.

One of the cabinet ministers affected by the disruptions is Yair Lapid. The Foreign Ministry refused to issue Lapid a diplomatic passport and also ordered embassy staffers to boycott his visit to Paris a few months ago. Israeli Ambassador to France Yossi Gal attended one of Lapid's meetings in the French capital and later the union reprimanded him.

Negotiations between the diplomats who backed by the Histadrut labor federation Finance Ministry have been completely deadlocked for weeks, partly because the treasury has refused all compromise offers. Lapid specifically ordered his staff not to be flexible in negotiations.

On Tuesday he took to Facebook condemning the diplomats using Holocaust-related terminology. He wrote on Facebook:

"Foreign Ministry workers are in the midst of a labor dispute with Foreign Ministry and they are conducting disruptions. They hired lobbyists and PR people and even this is within the law, but now they have done something that must not be done: As part of their disruptions to the work of the Foreign Ministry, they are refusing to issue diplomatic passports to Shin Bet security guards who accompany delegations of high school students to the death camps in Poland. This action has led to, of course, the cancellation of these delegations, even though the families had already paid for the trip."

Foreign Ministry workers responded with rapid fire on Lapid's wall.

"In your previous occupation you would have certainly justified the disruptions in the Foreign Ministry and expressed a complete lack of understanding about the way the Finance Ministry is behaving, the ministry you stand at the head of which today," wrote Isaac Bachman, Israel's ambassador to Sweden. "Involving the Holocaust in this matter is shameful and manipulative, as is the entire conduct of the Finance Ministry toward the Foreign Ministry and its employees."

The deputy consul general in Istanbul, Ohad Avidan Kaynar, accused Lapid of media spin. "Officials in your ministry have been acting like bullies toward us and our families for many years," he wrote. "Now you remember to come to the defense of the trips to Poland? Not to mention that your figures are distorted as usual! The Shin Bet has hundreds of diplomatic passports ready for use which can allow the delegations to go," Kaynar wrote.

Lapid is responsible for the prolongation of the strike, said Israel's ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Marco Sermoneta. He called Lapid's use of the Holocaust disgusting and cynical and "for cheap political purposes."

"I am very happy that Yesh Atid's response team confirms that the post was written by the minister and not by his representative. The entire People of Israel will now know who is running the battle on the backs of children (the children of the Foreign Ministry) and who is using the memory of the Holocaust in vain," wrote the deputy consul general in Boston, Maya Kadosh.

The Finance Ministry has also ordered a 25 percent pay cut for diplomats as part of the government’s efforts to break up the partial strike of Foreign Ministry employees. Wage and Labor Agreements Director Kobi Amsalem ordered the salary cut last Wednesday, along with a 25 percent reduction in the rent reimbursement for hundreds of diplomats abroad. The order was in a letter, titled "salary deductions due to partial strike," that Amsalem sent to Mordechai Elisha, a senior deputy of the Accountant General. The deduction will be applied to July salaries. Amsalem’s letter included a long list of the employees whose salaries will be cut. The list was made available to Finance Ministry officials by senior officials of the Foreign Ministry administration, with the knowledge of ministry Director-General Rafael Barak.

The diplomats are demanding wage rises to the value of NIS 50 million, as well as a further NIS 50-100 million for the representatives abroad of other Israeli institutions, such as the Mossad and Shin Bet.

The employee strike is expected to escalate soon into a general strike affecting both the ministry in Israel and its offices abroad. In the meantime, Israeli consulates and embassies have almost completely halted the processing of requests by Israeli citizens abroad, an action that could create serious problems for thousands of Israelis travelling abroad during the summer vacation and September holidays.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid. Credit: Ofer Vaknin

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