Israeli Diplomats Call Off Strike Planned in Protest of Work Conditions

Foreign Ministry employees say treasury has not kept its part of the bargain on refunding diplomats’ expenses overseas

Israel's Foreign Ministry building, Jerusalem, 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

Unions representing the employees of the Foreign and Defense Ministries called a strike on Thursday in protest of work conditions, but called it off after several hours. 

Foreign Ministry employees said the Finance Ministry retreated on Wednesday from an agreement on refunding diplomats’ expenses for hospitality and entertainment overseas. The unions say the treasury is insisting on reimbursement based on receipts, and that it will no longer provide such funds in advance of expenditures.

The unions also plan on preventing visitors from entering the IDF headquarters base, the Kirya in Tel Aviv, for a few of hours in the middle of the day.

The agreement with the treasury was that expenses would continue to be paid as an advance until a solution to the crisis was found, but on Wednesday the Finance Ministry informed them that it would stop doing so, union representatives said.

Reports in July said that the Foreign Ministry faced a 350-million shekel ($100 million) budget shortfall, which caused the cancellation of Memorial Day and Holocaust Remembrance Day events, among other things.

Before the strike was called off, the Finance Ministry said that Foreign and Defense Ministry employees, like all workers, must by law pay taxes and submit receipts to receive expense money. “Beyond the letter of the law, and because the [Jewish] holidays are near, the accountant general decided to approve the payment of a partial advance of the amounts.”

The Foreign Ministry has suffered from severe budget cuts in recent years, as well as the erosion of the status and conditions of diplomats. Some of its funds have been transferred to the Strategic Affairs Ministry, for example, which focuses on the government’s battle against BDS.

Foreign Ministry employees had hoped that the appointment of a permanent foreign minister in place of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who held the portfolio for a long time, would help them improve the situation. But matters have so far not changed under the tenure of Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz. In internal ministry meetings, Katz has blamed treasury officials for the problem – even though he personally supported the budget decisions that have led to the crisis.