At this sensitive time...diplomacy almost entirely paralyzed

Foreign Ministry forced to freeze most diplomatic activity due to lack of funds

Diplomats call Finance Ministry’s order to halt many of their operations worldwide ‘unprecedented’; say they warned ‘time and again’ of funding shortfall

People gather outside the Foreign Ministry building in Jerusalem, November 15, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
People gather outside the Foreign Ministry building in Jerusalem, November 15, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Foreign Ministry announced Sunday that it was being forced to freeze most of its diplomatic activities worldwide due to a lack of funds.

The ministry said the instruction was given by the Finance Ministry’s accountant general, 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 suspended includes 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 ministry called the Finance Ministry’s intervention “unprecedented.” While acknowledging that it faces a serious deficit, the Foreign Ministry said this was a result of consistent under-funding by the treasury, which it had warned against “time and again.”

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 is working to solve the crisis, the ministry said.

“We hope that the ministry’s vital operations for the national security and strengthening Israel’s international status will return to order,” the statement said.

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 on posts 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 the 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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