Finance Ministry Threatens to Discipline Striking Israeli Diplomats

The director of the wages department said he would take disciplinary action against Foreign Ministry workers who lock ministry buildings or pay advances to strikers.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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Foreign ministry, closed on strike, March 24, 2014.
Foreign ministry, closed on strike, March 24, 2014.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

The Finance Ministry is threatening to file disciplinary charges against striking Foreign Ministry employees and diplomats worldwide.

In a letter sent to the Foreign Ministry union Monday, Kobi Amsalem, director of the treasury’s wages department, threatened disciplinary action against any worker involved in locking the gates of the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem or embassies and consulates overseas or paying salary advances to the striking diplomats.

On Monday, the strike’s first day, all Israeli missions abroad were closed, including the embassy in Washington and the various United Nations missions, as was the Foreign Ministry. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman plans to hold a press conference about the strike Tuesday morning.

In his letter to the union, Amsalem wrote that the treasury had obtained copies of the union’s instructions to close the Foreign Ministry and all the overseas missions and to pay advances to the striking workers. Both steps were in response to the treasury’s decision to dock the workers’ wages on account of the sanctions they launched two weeks ago.

“Even in the framework of a [labor] dispute and a strike, a workers’ union may not lock the gates of a government office or any of its [overseas] missions,” Amsalem wrote. “These buildings and complexes are owned by the state, not the Histadrut labor federation or the union.”

If these steps were carried out, he continued, they would constitute stealing from the public coffers, and therefore would lead to disciplinary action. He said he had already given the relevant information to the head of the Civil Service Commission’s disciplinary department.

The union’s order that administrative workers in overseas missions issue salary advances to the diplomats also constitutes a disciplinary offense, Amsalem wrote. “The accountant general and the accountants of the various ministries are the parties authorized to order payment of salaries. The union’s instruction on this matter was given without authority and amounts to putting its hand in the state’s till.”

But the union appeared unfazed by Amsalem’s letter. It reiterated its order to administrative workers in overseas missions to pay salary advances to the diplomats and to all other mission personnel, both Israeli and foreign. It also ordered them to continue paying the diplomats’ rent.

“This is a reign of intimidation more appropriate for Third World countries,” said one diplomat at an overseas mission, who asked to remain anonymous. “Sanctions like these are used against employees in countries about whose double standards of morality we usually complain in the UN Human Rights Council. It’s saddening to see Foreign Ministry workers overseas not only being asked to look under the wheels of their cars to check for Hezbollah bombs, but also being asked to deal with threats from home.”

Early Monday morning, the striking workers erected a protest tent outside the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem and blocked all entrances to the compound with truckloads of garbage, assisted by members of the Histadrut’s Jerusalem branch.

Ministry director general Nissim Ben Shitrit was prevented from entering the compound when he arrived for work in the morning. He left the ministry after a short conversation with the strikers, during which he expressed support for their struggle.

Due to the strike, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon canceled a planned work visit to Rome next week. The Israeli military attaché in Rome, who arranged the aborted visit without assistance from the Foreign Ministry, was prevented from entering the embassy on Monday. The visit was intended to deal with defense purchases and military cooperation with Italy.

The strike closed dozens of Israeli missions in Asia, Europe, North America and Latin America. Security officers at the embassies in Rome, New Delhi, Paris, Brussels and other capitals prevented representatives of the Israel Defense Forces, Defense Ministry, Mossad and Economy Ministry from entering the premises.

It was initially unclear whether the Israeli embassy in Washington would join the strike, as Ambassador Ron Dermer, a political appointee of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, opposes the labor action and does not consider himself bound by the union’s instructions. But the strikers invested great effort in ensuring that the embassy remained closed to all comers, including dozens of representatives of government offices other than the Foreign Ministry who are based there. They ultimately succeeded.

Striking workers at the entrance to the Foreign Ministry on Monday morning.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

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