The fact that Israel’s Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem and its 103 consulates around the world are on strike is an embarrassment. Prime Minister Netanyahu had to cancel a planned trip in April to Latin America because of this strike, stemming from diplomats’ protests over employment conditions, including a pay cut. And the planned state visit of Pope Francis in May is in jeopardy, as are any number of other diplomatic projects.
Adding to the problem, and underscoring the sad situation, is that most Israelis seem unconcerned. Perhaps they don’t realize the important and often selfless work accomplished by these emissaries of the Jewish state, who are underpaid and underappreciated, especially those in junior and mid-level positions.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, wrote in Haaretz this week that most members of Israel’s foreign service “are amongst the hardest working and most devoted, dedicated and committed public servants I have ever met.”
The Foreign Ministry office in Jerusalem and missions in the U.S. and elsewhere are closed to all activities, which in addition to facilitating the visits of foreign dignitaries and other leaders include dealing with economic ties, hasbara advocacy for Israel, and practical services for travelers and Israeli citizens living abroad.
One diplomat posted in New York told us he and his colleagues have endured increasing financial setbacks, adding that qualified spouses are often unable to work when abroad. He said that more than 35 percent of diplomatic recruits over the last decade have left their posts due to low financial remuneration. The Finance Ministry has allowed the talks to drag on for months.
One suggestion for freeing up funds: withhold pensions from senior Israeli politicians who, after leaving office, receive large sums of money to sit on boards of private companies or work in the private sector. They should be allowed to hold such positions, but if their income is, say, four times higher than their pension, or more than that, let them forego their pension.
Surely there are other creative ideas as well that can lead to ending this unfortunate strike, a wholly unnecessary black mark on Israel’s already tenuous image.