Reductions of Israeli Missions in U.S. at Heart of Dispute Over Foreign Ministry Budget

Draft 2019 budget proposes merging several consulates in the United States, Turkey and Eastern Europe

The Israeli Embassy in Washington, September 30, 2016.
Gary Cameron / REUTERS

Israel should gradually close down 22 of its 103 diplomatic missions around the world, the Finance Ministry suggests in its proposed 2019 budget, which will be submitted to the cabinet for approval on Thursday.

The department responsible for the budget is effectively suggesting to merge some local missions with regional ones. Finance Ministry officials say the main savings would be on rent and security.

The plan has received the blessing of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also acts as foreign minister. However, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely and the ministry director general, Yuval Rotem, are trying to soften the blow ahead of cabinet approval.

The discussion centers on Israels nine missions in the United States, which are in Washington, Atlanta, Boston, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York (including the mission to the United Nations), San Francisco and Chicago. The operating costs of each such embassy or consulate are between 8 million and 15 million shekels ($2.3 million to $4.4 million) a year and the Finance Ministry budget proposes merging some of them.

Officials are also fighting over Canada – Israel has missions in Toronto, Montreal and Ottowa, which cost about the same to maintain – and the missions in Brazil (Brasilia and Sao Paulo), Turkey (Ankara, Istanbul) and Germany (Berlin and Munich). Merging the missions in Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia is also being discussed.

The Finance Ministry is also proposing to cut 140 jobs from the 700 personnel currently employed at the Foreign Ministry headquarters. Ministry sources say there are dozens of employees who have returned from missions overseas and do not necessarily want to go abroad again, but the ministry has to keep them on the payroll.

Altogether the Finance Ministry suggests cutting 216 million shekels from the Finance Ministry budget, which is about 1.48 billion shekels a year.

On top of the cutbacks at the Foreign Ministry, the Finance Ministry wants to consolidate the 29 ministries to 17 core ones. One potential candidate for unification with the Foreign Ministry is the Strategic Affairs and Information Ministry, which is currently headed by Gilad Erdan. The ministry was created for political reasons a decade ago; since then it has been dismantled and reestablished, and the realm of its authority has changed.

The Finance Ministry plan would cause irreversible damage to Israels foreign relations and national security, a senior Foreign Ministry official said. This would constitute irreparable harm that would damage every plan to change the balance of powers in the international arena. It is a unilateral, aggressive move that would hurt the State of Israel and its vital interests. The efficiency that the Finance Ministry speaks of is effectively indiscriminating budget cuts. The Foreign Ministry constantly improves its efficiency and does so successfully.