Striking diplomats rap UK envoy for not nixing Cameron trip

Striking diplomats rap UK envoy for not nixing Cameron trip

Foreign Ministry workers send letter to Matthew Gould accusing him of trying to break strike by coordinating visit with PM's office

Lazar Berman is a former breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

British Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould addressing the first UK-Israel Regenerative Medicine Conference (Photo credit: British Embassy)
British Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould addressing the first UK-Israel Regenerative Medicine Conference (Photo credit: British Embassy)

Striking Israeli diplomats have lashed out at Britain’s ambassador to Israel for failing to show solidarity and urge British Prime Minister David Cameron to cancel his trip to Jerusalem.

Foreign Ministry employees accused ambassador Matthew Gould and his embassy of crossing picket lines in the ongoing labor dispute, the London-based Telegraph reported Tuesday.

“As professionals to a professional … we express our disappointment that your embassy has been actively contributing to the ongoing efforts to break our struggle for better and fairer conditions,” the ministry’s employees union wrote.

Cameron is scheduled to arrive in Israel Wednesday afternoon for a day-long visit. Cameron’s Downing Street office said he will meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and deliver a speech to the Knesset on Wednesday.

The strike has left the visit in the hands of Netanyahu’s office and the British Embassy in Tel Aviv.

Cameron’s visit was already delayed by a month because of flooding in London, but ministry employees said the British embassy should have pushed it off again.

“As a colleague, we would have expected you to ask Mr. Cameron to defer his arrival here, until such a time when we could extend to him the kind of reception he certainly merits,” the letter read. “Instead, by cooperating with alternative Israeli government organs in circumventing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the British embassy is knowingly contributing to denigrating our status, undercutting our traditional responsibilities and disrupting a just and legitimate labor dispute.”

“We have been hoping for your solidarity and support, especially since it is us who regularly provide your embassy with the vast majority of the services required for its smooth operation. Once our strike is over, will you continue seeking those services from the same government departments with whom you are now cooperating in breaking our struggle?”

A British embassy spokesman told the Telegraph that the mission would seek to continue to work with the MFA in the future.

“We have an enormous respect for the work of our colleagues at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and we are grateful to them for their close collaboration with us,” the spokesman said in a statement. “The visit of Prime Minister Cameron will be a proud moment for both countries and we regret the MFA were unable to participate in its organisation on this occasion. We look forward to working closely with the MFA on future visits.”

Gould is the first Jew to serve as UK’s ambassador to Israel, a post he has occupied since 2010.

The ongoing strike had threatened Cameron’s visit, and is complicating a planned visit by Pope Francis in May and an intended trip by President Shimon Peres to China.

The workers union, which is fighting for higher salaries and better work conditions for diplomats serving abroad, published a list of more than two dozen measures that took effect last Tuesday. For instance, Foreign Ministry officials said they’d no longer cooperate in organizing visits of foreign presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers and other officials.
Likewise, the diplomats are refusing to assist Israeli officials currently abroad or planning overseas trips. No diplomatic passports are being issued and “no assistance whatsoever” is being granted to Israeli officials abroad. In addition, all consular services to Israeli citizens have been suspended; exceptions are being made in cases where lives are in danger or bodies need to be returned to Israel for burial.

A trip by Peres to Vienna later in March will take place without any foreign ministry support, Haaretz reported Wednesday.

Last summer, the union initiated similar sanctions, which were suspended at the end of July when the diplomats and the Finance Ministry agreed to refer the matter to a mediator. But the talks broke down with no results.

During his visit, Cameron will not only reiterate Britain’s commitment to reaching a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and support for US-mediated efforts to forge a framework agreement between the two sides, but also explore new avenues for greater business and tech cooperation between the UK and Israel.

Accompanied by a British business delegation numbering 17 firms, Cameron will also unveil a plan to help Palestinian businesses develop.
Cameron is also scheduled to meet Abbas during his two-day trip, which will include a short stay in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, where he will meet with Abbas.

Cameron visited Israel as an opposition lawmaker before his 2010 rise to power.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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