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Israeli Diplomats Strike: Fallout Tumbles in Many Directions

On Tuesday, March 3, 2014, the spokesman of the Association of Foreign Service Employees— the union voice of Israel’s diplomats—announced that “diplomats will no longer engage with foreign representatives, take care of official visits of any kind, either in Israel or overseas, issue visas or provide any consular services. “

The Association took this action, it said, because it was “left with no other choice but to ratchet up its year-long labor dispute with the Ministry of Finance, after the latter caused the failure of a seven-month mediation process led by the former Chief Justice of the Labor Court.”

In Jerusalem, JLBC spoke with Yigal Palmor, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, during the diplomats’ initial job action. At the time of the interview, during the last week of August, 2013, the diplomats were in a similar position: at an impasse with the Ministry of Finance regarding both consular expenses—from water filters in African nations to funding for hasbara projects in the United States—and compensation for diplomats. At that time, Palmor said diplomats hoped that the appointment of a former Chief Justice of the Labor Court as arbitrator would lead to resolution of the disputes.

After seven months of no progress, the members of the FSWA decided to once again strike, hoping their action will raise awareness of the “dire situation of Israel’s hardworking diplomats.”

This highly visible group represents the Jewish State. It is committed and willing to face and respond to challenges. Despite—or, perhaps, because of their commitment—“Israel’s diplomats” insist that their reasonable demands be met” and are striking to achieve “a long-overdue adjustment of the salary, an end to a discriminatory tax policy, consideration of the ‘trailing’ spouses and children, and compensation for extra hours.”

An Israeli diplomat in a major American city, speaking to JLBC off the record, expressed disappointment in the lack of response from the Ministry of Finance. Steve Adler acted on behalf of the FSWA. “It was a process that should have taken no more than 60 days,” the diplomat remarked. Yet, almost seven months later, “we still see no seriousness on the part of Finance.”

“There is,” said the Israeli, “a general lack of understanding of the work of the consulates by many in the government. Very few care about the MFA and the kind of impact it has on behalf of Israel at every level…There’s been no real change in 20 years,” we were told. Effectively, MFA “is getting two people for one salary. At the end of day, only one’s passion sustains.”

Several diplomats told JLBC they are seeking sufficient compensation “to make ends meet and support their families” The decision to escalate the labor dispute “tears our hearts apart…”Canceling an engagement that would benefit Israel has lasting negative effects. I hope that the Minister of Finance takes us seriously.”

Will the diplomats’ value be recognized? “Do people understand what they are giving up without a high quality Foreign Ministry? The leadership is not listening to the real price if we lose the soldiers who guard the walls and create the image of Israel.”

Noting that “one diplomat who can entice an investment in Israel can create jobs for 50, even more, is the government ready to give up this outreach?”

The strike was rumored to have caused the cancellation of the May visit of Pope Francis. But the Vatican denied the report, claiming Pope Francis decided to cancel his planned visit. Father Frederico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, said, “The strike may create difficulties but for now there is nothing further as far as we are concerned…The current strike is a problem that may lead to complications with regards to trip preparations,” Lombardi added, that “the Holy See never spoke of canceling this very important visit.”

Immediate fallout from the strike involved the obviously missing diplomats not meeting Prime Minister Netanyahu when he arrived in California after his appearance at the AIPAC conference. Diplomats were missing from the PM’s official party during his San Francisco meetings as well. The rumored cancellation of the visit of Prime Minister David Cameron of England, scheduled to address the Knesset, March 12 is another result.

The strike will have a direct impact on Bergen County residents requiring consular services. Israeli citizens living in the county will be unable to secure visas, passports, business or civil services. Business services will also not be available. Arrangements involving a death, however, remain available.

By Maxine Dovere

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