Diplomat strike forces PM to nix Latin America trip

Netanyahu’s scrapped April visit to Colombia, Mexico and Panama would have been the first for an Israeli leader

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, March 19, 2014. (Photo credit: Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, March 19, 2014. (Photo credit: Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled an upcoming trip to Latin America Thursday due to sanctions imposed by Foreign Ministry employees, which include boycotting the prime minister’s trips abroad.

Netanyahu had been scheduled to visit Colombia, Mexico, and Panama in April, but the trip became the latest casualty of the ongoing labor dispute between diplomats and the Finance Ministry.

The visit to Latin America would have been the first for an Israeli prime minister. While efforts had been made in the Prime Minister’s Office to organize the trip independently, officials ultimately discovered it to be impossible without diplomatic help.

Colombian President Manuel Santos was greatly disappointed by the cancellation, a senior Israeli official told Haaretz. Netanyahu’s visit would have likely boosted Santos’s political standing ahead of the country’s elections in May.

The Foreign Ministry’s Workers Union, which is fighting for higher salaries and better working conditions for diplomats serving abroad, published a list of more than two dozen measures that took effect as of March 4.

As part of the sanctions, Foreign Ministry officials 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 are suspended; exceptions only being made in cases where lives are in danger or bodies need to be returned to Israel for burials.

Last summer, the Workers Union initiated similar labor sanctions, which were suspended at the end of July when the diplomats and the Finance Ministry agreed to approach a mediator.

The union initiated the second round of sanctions after blaming the Finance Ministry for sabotaging the talks. “Ministry official prefer slurs, lies and manipulation rather than substantive solutions,” it said in a statement.

“Finance Ministry officials chose to act in a way that is unworthy of public servants, and their behavior reached a low point when after seven months of mediated negotiations they presented us with an offer that says, ‘Continue to give your all, you’ll get absolutely nothing in return,’” said Yair Frommer, the union’s chairman, in a statement.

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