Furious at cuts, Israeli diplomats to boycott preparations for PM’s trips abroad
Unprecedented step comes as sweeping budget slashes force cancellation of cultural events, student projects, passport and visa processing, and diplomats’ basic travel
Foreign Ministry employees have stepped up protests over budget cuts to overseas diplomatic missions, announcing Thursday that embassy workers will no longer take care of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s travel arrangements until their dispute with the Finance Ministry is resolved.
The workers union of the foreign and defense ministries said Israeli diplomats had been instructed not to handle the logistical preparations for Netanyahu’s upcoming overseas visits until further notice.
Israeli embassy workers will also not issue diplomatic passports to ministers, Knesset members and state emissaries, or process applications and licenses for arms sales.
Netanyahu is scheduled to make his second official visit to India in early September, ahead of Israel’s general election.
Foreign Ministry workers announced last month 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.
Workers told Hebrew-language media outlets that the unprecedented step announced Thursday was the result of months of failed negotiations with the Finance Ministry.
The cutbacks halve Israel’s payments to over 20 international organizations including the UN’s agencies for women, refugees and violence prevention. Payments to the Council of Europe and international cultural projects have also ground to halt.
At Israeli embassies and consulates, many recent cultural and public relations events have been called off unless private donations are found. Dozens of youth projects — including student exchange programs in China, India and Japan — have been canceled due to lack of funds.
Israel currently maintains 69 embassies, 23 consulates and five special missions, including its representative at the United Nations.
The across-the-board cuts have largely stopped all travel of ambassadors, consuls and roving embassy workers in dozens of countries, leading to disruptions in the consular services offered to Israeli citizens.
The Haaretz daily reported Thursday that Israeli embassies in India and China were not issuing any tourist visas, while consulates in New York and Los Angeles stopped issuing Israeli passports until further notice.
Netanyahu has frequently talked of improving ties around the world, and Israel this year opened an embassy in Rwanda. But living conditions at diplomatic residences have eroded over the past decade.
In May, a report by 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.
Embassy workers told Hebrew-language media outlets that the unprecedented step announced Thursday was the result of months of failed negotiations with the Finance Ministry.
“We don’t even have the budget for train tickets or a cup of coffee during a work meeting,” an unnamed diplomat told Haaretz.