Israel Employs Untrained Local Staff in Diplomatic Roles Abroad, Harming Its Foreign Relations

Israel's comptroller finds missions are hiring locals to take on tasks normally reserved for envoys, despite Foreign Ministry claims to the contrary, with damaging results

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A supporter of Netanyahu holds a flag opposite Downing Street ahead of his visit, in London, February 6, 2017.
A supporter of Netanyahu holds a flag opposite Downing Street ahead of his visit, in London, February 6, 2017.Credit: DYLAN MARTINEZ/REUTERS

The employment of nonprofessional employees in diplomatic roles in Israeli missions abroad could cause major damage to Israel's image and its foreign relations, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira warned in a report his office issued on Tuesday.

The comptroller’s report states that, in addition to the more than 700 professional diplomats stationed overseas by the Foreign Ministry and envoys of other government ministries serving around the world, Israeli embassies and consulates employ more than 3,200 local employees, some of whom are Israeli citizens. Most of these local employees are clerical or security staff but a considerable number work in core diplomatic positions – involved in contacts with the officials in national legislatures, executive branch officials, the media and the business and civilian sectors. They do so in violation of Foreign Ministry procedures and without any appropriate training, Shapira wrote, adding the situation is the result of ministry staff shortages and dozens of unfilled diplomatic posts.

“The findings show that [staffing] in core fields in which the missions work – diplomacy, international law, public advocacy, economics and trade – have been in continual crisis and that the mission have relied for some time on filling these positions with local employees,” the report states. “The operational crisis in which the Foreign Ministry finds itself is liable to harm its ability to properly represent the State of Israel’s diplomatic, public relations, economic and consular interests at its missions abroad.”

The report refers to a response from the Foreign Ministry in December to an inquiry from the comptroller’s office in which the ministry noted that the local employees provide assistance to diplomatic envoys for the gamut of the missions’ activities but do not replace - and are not meant to replace - the envoys in their diplomatic roles, and do not have the envoys’ authority.

“The local employees do not set the mission’s workplace policies. They are not given the range of professional judgment of the envoys, and in general are not the ones who provide the diplomatic picture to the Foreign Ministry headquarters, and directives from the headquarters are conveyed directly to the envoys,” the ministry said in its response to Shapira’s office. Contrary to the ministry’s assertions, however, the comptroller’s office found numerous instances of local employees filling diplomatic roles without training or oversight.

One of the primary examples cited of damage to Israel’s image by a local employee performing diplomatic work was the case of Shai Masot, who was an assistant to the deputy Israeli ambassador in London. Masot made the news several months ago as a result of an exposé on Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television that included the broadcast of video footage showing the embassy staffer in conversation with a British member of parliament, in which the two discussed possible steps that could be taken against a British cabinet member. The report was a major embarrassment for the Foreign Ministry, and Masot resigned his job.

“Beginning in November 2014, a local Israeli employee at the Israeli embassy in London was hired for the position of ‘senior coordinator – special,’” the comptroller wrote in reference to Masot. “In February 2016, the former Israeli ambassador in London wrote of the Israeli local employee that he was filling the position at the embassy of senior diplomatic assistant and that this post was one of the most important and sensitive at the embassy. It included responsibility to follow and analyze British political events and the embassy’s ties with members of the two houses of the British parliament. In this position, the employee was also an assistant to the deputy ambassador in London.”

The comptroller’s report also disclosed similar cases of local employees at major embassies in other capitals, including Paris, Brussels and Washington, as well as at the United Nations, who carried out the work of professional diplomats. “A local Israeli employee was hired at the Paris embassy as Israel’s cultural attaché,” the controller noted. “At the Brussels embassy three foreign local employees independently performed core representation jobs without any direct instruction from the envoys – a public diplomacy employee briefing reporters, a public diplomacy employee delivering public speeches to various target audiences without oversight, and a culture employee in lieu of a cultural attaché, an envoy’s job.”

The Foreign Ministry must reform its practice of hiring local employees at its missions, defining clear professional and administrative limits for jobs for which they can be hired, Shapira wrote. “It would be appropriate for the Foreign Ministry to set long-term policy with regard to filling the vacant positions of all employees abroad, including the necessary qualifications for filling core representative positions, the establishment of a recruitment process for candidates for these positions and regulation of their status in the countries where they are serving,” he stated.