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Israeli diplomats threaten to disrupt arrangements for PM’s Obama meet

Foreign Ministry workers’ union says it can call strike at any moment over wage row, demands swift action from Netanyahu

US President Barack Obama speaks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum on March 22, 2013, in Jerusalem, Israel. (Uriel Sinai/Getty Images/JTA)
US President Barack Obama speaks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum on March 22, 2013, in Jerusalem, Israel. (Uriel Sinai/Getty Images/JTA)

Israeli diplomats are threatening to disrupt arrangements surrounding the meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama next week in Washington, over an ongoing labor dispute between Foreign Ministry employees and the Finance Ministry.

Monday’s White House session will be the first meeting between the two heads of state in a year — and more pertinently since the July signing of the Iranian nuclear deal, brokered by the US and five other international powers and fiercely opposed by Israel.

The Foreign Ministry workers’ union warned Thursday that it could call a strike among diplomats in Israel and aboard without prior warning, thereby disrupting the scheduled meeting next week.

The union said it expects a swift response to its demands from the prime minister, who also holds the post of foreign minister.

The dispute over low wages between the diplomatic service and the Finance Ministry has been going on for some time. The diplomats argue that past agreements are not being honored and budgets are not being approved.

The head of the workers’ union, Hanan Goder, said Thursday that the diplomats take a “very grave” view of the situation regarding working conditions at the ministry.

“It’s unacceptable that envoys sent abroad cannot make ends meet, and employees in Israel must every week deal with some new violation of their working conditions. We strongly protest the expected budget cuts for 2015-2016. These cut cruelly into the Foreign Ministry budget,” he said, according to a statement released to the press.

“We will not hesitate to use every legal means available until wage agreements signed with us are honored by treasury officials,” he warned.

Israel’s relations with countries across the world are sensitive and crucial, and it’s time the Israeli government provided the proper compensation to its diplomats, the head of the workers’ union argued.

“We demand of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also the foreign minister: honor the agreements you’ve signed,” Goder said.

The union said in August that it would hold up processing the latest ambassadorial appointments. If the appointments are not processed, the new envoys will be unable to obtain diplomatic passports to travel to their new assignments.

In July 2013, Foreign Ministry workers called a labor dispute that disrupted foreign appointments. At the time, Israel’s newly appointed ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, was caught up in delays that prevented him receiving his diplomatic passport and other paperwork.

In November 2014, the union ended that strike after it signed a comprehensive agreement with Finance Ministry officials.

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