Diplomats call full-blown strike, shuttering Foreign Ministry

For the first time in Israeli history, Workers Union shuts down ministry building in Jerusalem and 103 embassies worldwide

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: Israeli diplomats at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem,  March 19, 2014. (courtesy Foreign Ministry Workers Union)
Illustrative: Israeli diplomats at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, March 19, 2014. (courtesy Foreign Ministry Workers Union)

The Foreign Ministry’s Workers Union on Sunday declared a full-blown general strike, shutting down the ministry’s headquarters in Jerusalem and all Israeli embassies and consulates across the world.

“The workers entirely locked the Foreign Ministry and Israeli embassies in the world, for the first time in Israel’s history,” the union declared in a dramatic statement headlined “The State of Israel’s first line of defense is falling apart.”

The move follows weeks of lower-level labor actions which have stymied diplomatic efforts abroad and stopped possible visitors to Israel from getting visas, among other sanctions.

Under the full strike, nobody will be allowed into the Foreign Ministry building, “including the political leadership and the ministry’s management,” according to the statement.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called the development an “unfortunate decision of the workers union, reflecting hysteria.”

“It’s unproductive and only causes more harm to the Foreign Ministry employees,” Liberman said. “It’s unfortunate that these irresponsible measures come at the expense of the citizenry and while negotiations are taking place with the Finance Ministry and amid mediation, led by an agreed-on mediator — former National Labor Court president Steve Adler — in order to reach a just agreement. We’ll do everything possible in order to minimize the damage caused to the state and its citizens.”

Sunday’s announcement escalates a months-old labor dispute between the union and the Finance Ministry, which could seriously disrupt Israel’s foreign policy apparatus.

Earlier this month, the Workers Union, which is fighting for higher salaries and better working conditions for diplomats serving abroad, declared a renewed round of labor sanctions, which have already led to series of cancellations of visits to Israel by foreign dignitaries and trips abroad by Israeli leaders.

All activities at Israel’s 103 embassies across the globe have been suspended until further notice, the statement read.

“The Finance Ministry has declared all-out war on the foreign service of the State of Israel and dedicated diplomats fighting for Israel’s future of Israelis every day and every hour,” said Yair Frommer, the head of the Workers Union. “We will not accept the intolerable lawlessness of Finance Ministry officials sabotaging Israel’s vital interests.”

The Finance Ministry did not respond to a Times of Israel query before this article was posted.

According to the Workers Union, the strike could have dramatic implications for Israel’s security. “Israel will remain without any diplomatic protection in the international arena, and risks international isolation,” the statement read.

The labor dispute, which started on March 4 with the implementation of measures meant to pressure the Finance Ministry, already caused a considerable amount of damage to Israel’s day-to-day foreign policy operations, but was so far unable to make major headlines or prevent high-profile visits from taking place.

For instance, British Prime Minister David Cameron arrived in Israel despite the Foreign Ministry’s refusal to assist in the preparations prior to his visit.

Ministry officials also said Pope Francis had canceled his May trip to Israel due to the labor sanctions, but Vatican officials later said the visit was still on. Israeli embassies and consulates stopped servicing Israelis abroad and diplomats were instructed not to arrange or conduct any work meetings and cease sending diplomatic cables or to engage in pro-Israel public diplomacy.

On the other hand, several foreign ministers and other officials have canceled their planned trips to Israel, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly was forced to put the brakes on an upcoming visit to South America.

Last summer, the Workers Union initiated labor sanctions, which were suspended at the end of July when the diplomats and the Finance Ministry agreed to employ a mediator. But the talks broke down earlier this month with no result.

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