Averting shutdown, Foreign Ministry gets emergency cash injection

Finance Ministry grants undisclosed ‘preliminary amount’ to allow diplomats to continue their work, announces ‘comprehensive reform’

Foreign Minister Israel Katz arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, June 24, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Foreign Minister Israel Katz arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, June 24, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The Foreign Ministry on Monday obtained a vital cash injection, one day after it announced the suspension of most of its diplomatic activities due to a severe lack of funds.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz and the head of Finance Ministry’s Budget Department, Shaul Meridor, agreed that a “preliminary amount” would be transferred to the Foreign Ministry to secure its ongoing operations.

Asked how much money the Foreign Ministry is expected to receive, a spokesperson for Katz replied that it is a “sum that according to the calculations and examinations will allow [the ministry’s] ongoing activity.”

Negotiations between the Foreign Ministry and the treasury on the matter will continue “in order to formulate a comprehensive reform that will enable the Foreign Ministry to fulfill its important objectives,” Katz’s office said in a statement.

On Sunday, the Foreign Ministry said that it was instructed by the Finance Ministry’s accountant general to freeze nearly all its diplomatic activity due to the “grave deficit” in its budget.

“The main effect is that during this sensitive time, when faced with diplomatic and strategic challenges, first and foremost among them the threat by Iran and its proxies — and on the eve of a UN General Assembly — the Foreign Ministry and its missions abroad will be almost entirely paralyzed,” the ministry said in a statement.

Activities that were to be suspended included diplomats’ overseas work trips, the formulation of new diplomatic initiatives and treaties, hosting delegations of foreign diplomats and journalists in Jerusalem, renovations and maintenance at the ministry headquarters, and so on.

The decision by the Foreign Ministry to halt many of its operations comes less than two months after it signed a deal with the Finance Ministry that would reportedly see a significant increase in budgeting. That agreement prompted Foreign Ministry employees to call off a strike that would have seen Israeli missions shut down its operations on a different continent every day.

Foreign Ministry workers announced in June that they would be stepping up protests after the government passed a sweeping NIS 1.2 billion ($333 million) spending cut. The budget cuts further strained the Foreign Ministry’s already tight budget, leading to downgraded services at Israeli embassies.

In May, a report by then-state comptroller Yosef Shapira found that some Israeli ambassadors and their staff were living in uninhabitable conditions while posted abroad. Shapira’s report said that many of the 250 or so properties and staff residences under the Foreign Ministry’s charge were in a dilapidated state.

The report detailed complaints from Israel’s ambassador to Nigeria about rats and lice in the official residence, and noted that the envoy to Brazil slept on a mattress on the floor.

Diplomats went on strike over wage and budget disputes in 2014 and again in 2016, saying the treasury had dragged its feet on implementing a previous compensation agreement.

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