Defense Official: End Foreign Ministry Strike Before It Harms Ties

Since March, diplomats of the Foreign Ministry have been protesting the erosion of their wages and what they have dubbed "the dismantling of the Foreign Ministry."

Defense Ministry Director General Udi Shani sent an urgent letter Wednesday to Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in which he requested that he intercede to end the strike within the Foreign Ministry as soon as possible, in order to save Israel from possible harm to its security and diplomatic ties.

A senior Israeli official, who read the letter, stated that Shani wrote to Netanyahu that the diplomats' strike, as well as the decision of the Foreign Ministry union to halt all cooperation with the Israeli Defense Forces has severely hindered the process of changing military and defense ministry attaches in at least ten countries around the world.

Shani said that because of the strike, Foreign Ministry employees have stopped making arrangements for IDF and Defense Ministry attaches and their families leaving the countries in which they are stationed. Many attaches are scheduled to finish their terms this summer, and due to the strike, their replacements' appointments are not being tended to.

The senior official said that in Shani's letter to Netanyahu, he stressed that if new attaches are not sent on time, this could have a deleterious effect on Israel's diplomatic and security relations with the countries in question.

The Defense Ministry contacted the Foreign Ministry workers' union a week ago and asked that they make arrangements for military attaches despite the strike. A foreign ministry committee rejected the request.

While embassy staff in Warsaw participates in a large-scale strike over Foreign Ministry wages, a Shin Bet representative has stepped in to organize the prime minister's visit there, say sources at the Foreign Ministry. The Shin Bet representative has reportedly reserved hotel rooms for ministers, retinues and journalists.

There was also a secret attempt to load security equipment needed for Netanyahu’s visit onto an air force flight that left for Poland on Wednesday. In the end, the equipment was not loaded onto that flight but Foreign Ministry workers see the effort as a sign of IDF involvement in Netanyahu’s visit and a breach of the strike.

“We know the IDF and the Shin Bet have cooperated with Netanyahu’s visit, contrary to expectations,” says Frommer. “The Prime Minister’s Bureau is sending the security branches to break a legal strike. We expect (acting) Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak with the workers and resolve the issue.”

Next week Netanyahu and six government ministers are slated to arrive in Warsaw for an intergovernmental summit between Israel and Poland. As part of the ongoing strike, the Foreign Ministry workers union has ordered the embassy not to cooperate with the organization of the visit, causing many difficulties and raising concern that the meeting might be canceled.

In an attempt to circumvent the Foreign Ministry and break the diplomats’ strike, the Prime Minister’s Bureau asked the IDF and the Shin Bet to organize the visit.  On Tuesday the Foreign Ministry union committee sent a letter to Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen asking them not to take part in breaking the strike.

Since March, diplomats of the Foreign Ministry have been protesting the erosion of their wages and what they have dubbed "the dismantling of the Foreign Ministry." They point out that no full-time foreign minister has been appointed in the current government and that areas under the jurisdiction of the Foreign Ministry have been transferred to a number of other ministers.

Among other things, the sanctions of the strike include a refusal to issue diplomatic passports to ministers, cessation of cable communications between Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem and delegations around the world and a halt to arrangements for ministerial visits abroad.