Israeli Diplomatic Missions Call Off Strike Over Deteriorating Conditions

Employees intended to disable all activities on a different continent every day over 'aggressive' budget cuts and alleged violations of diplomats' rights

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

A planned strike of all Israeli diplomatic missions around the world was called off on the workers committee of the Foreign Ministry.

Under the agreement, the foreign and defense ministries will both get a budget increase that will “significantly reduce the harm to the attaches,” the ministry’s workers committee said. 

Additionally, the treasury will tax only 50 percent of the special payments given to attaches from the foreign, defense and economy ministries who serve overseas. These payments are meant to cover the costs of hosting official guests. Under the treasury’s original plan, the entire payments were to be taxed.

The agreement also states that by 2021, a new procedure will be drafted for how to cover hospitality costs. The workers committee said its strike committee won’t be dismantled until the new procedure has been agreed upon by both sides and implemented in full, and until hospitality payments are formally incorporated in the ministry’s budget in such a way “that they won’t be affected by future cuts.”

Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz welcomed the agreement, terming it “an important step on the road to bolstering the foreign service and its employees, and one that will help Israel’s overseas representatives cope with the challenging tasks ahead. I want to thank the officials from the Histadrut and the Finance Ministry who brought this labor dispute to an end.” 

The strike was announced following a letter sent by 90 heads of embassies and missions to the head of the ministry’s diplomatic committee.

The signatories called for the strike in protest over they said was the extreme erosion of the Foreign Ministry’s status, as well as “aggressive operational budget cuts of Israel’s missions worldwide and severe impairment of the rights of Israel’s diplomatic representatives.”

The letter also stated that “by its present conduct, Israel is bringing about the elimination of the professional diplomatic system and is about to turn Israel into the only country that does not conduct foreign affairs in an organized manner. This must not be accepted on the national or the professional level. Neither will we accept this on the personal level, which manifests in ignoring the professionalism and expertise that we have attained over many years.”

The strike would have meant diplomatic, economic and security meetings would not be held during the strike and that consular services would be closed to the public.

The representatives of the workers’ committee met on Sunday with officials at the Finance Ministry to find a solution to the crisis.

On Saturday, some 70 former ambassadors signed a letter of support for the current representatives and noted that their call for a strike was justified, because the government is “destroying and strangling the Foreign Ministry.” The government has been “cutting budgets for trips and expropriating authority from the Foreign Ministry, delegating its powers and transferring its budget to other agencies that have not been trained for this and do not have the professional diplomatic tools and skills,” the former diplomats wrote. The former emissaries called on the government to “come to its senses and compel the Finance Ministry to keep to agreements and not to hurt the ability of foreign service personnel to continue to represent our country.”

“We demand that the powers and means taken away from the Foreign Ministry, that belong to it by law and logic, be restored,” the letter said.

The heads of Israel’s diplomatic missions abroad have complained recently in internal communiques about their situation due to the cutting of 350 million shekels ($70.6 million) in the ministry’s budget, which threatens their ongoing work. “There is no money for a train ticket or even for a cup of coffee at working meetings,” communiques stated.

Due to the cuts the ministry has had to suspend its dues to some 20 international organizations, among them UNICEF, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the World Food Program, the United Nations Development Program, the United Nations Population Fund and the United Nations Entity for Gender Empowerment. Obligatory dues to the European Council, the Union for the Mediterranean and the Anna Lindh Foundation have been suspended and Israel has accumulated debts to all these bodies.

Due to the cuts, senior diplomats have had to curtail working trips to areas under their responsibility. Roving ambassadors have had to remain in Israel and make do with overseeing foreign relations by remote control.

Dozens of projects have been suspended for lack of funding, among them youth missions and student exchanges with China, Japan and India. Public relations and cultural events have also been canceled, and Independence Day celebrations are mainly held in places where emissaries manage to raise contributions.