New envoy to US grounded by striking Foreign Ministry

Staffers won’t issue Ron Dermer, Israel’s incoming ambassador in Washington, with a diplomatic passport or take other steps to facilitate his appointment

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Israel’s newly appointed ambassador to the United States may have to wait a while to get his feet under his new DC desk, as striking Foreign Ministry workers are refusing to process his transfer to Washington, give him a diplomatic passport, or even buy him a ticket for the plane out.

Ron Dermer, who was named last week by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be the country’s top envoy to the US, is stuck in Israel for the time being while the Foreign Ministry Workers’ Union continues ongoing labor sanctions, the Foreign Ministry confirmed on Monday.

“The strike is still ongoing, so it is entirely natural that we wouldn’t issue a diplomatic passport for someone from the outside,” spokesman Yigal Palmor told The Times of Israel.

The workers, who have gradually stepped up sanctions over the last four months, are protesting wage cuts as well as reductions in the compensation packages offered to partners and spouses of those sent overseas.

Last month workers expanded their protest by halting all consular activities in Israel and abroad. As a result, thousands of Israelis are stranded in foreign countries waiting to obtain renewed passports and visiting business VIPs who require visas had to cancel trips to Israel.

Among those caught in the deadlock is Dermer, who will not receive his diplomatic passport or any other paperwork. Requests to US authorities for special ambassadorial permits have not been made and Dermer has not received the usual preparation courses required before he takes up his new position, Yedioth Ahronoth reported earlier Monday. He has also not been able to meet with staff from the North American offices who are to prepare him for the job.

As a result, Dermer will likely be forced to delay his arrival in Washington beyond the scheduled target date for next month, Yedioth said.

US-born Dermer, 42, a key adviser to Netanyahu, is to take over the key post from another US-born political appointee, Michael Oren, who has held the job for the past four years.

The bitter labor dispute between the diplomats and the Finance Ministry has been gathering force for months, and since April the workers union has been implementing sanctions aimed at disrupting Israeli officials’ visits abroad. The union asked staff to stop sending emails and diplomatic cables along with additional measures to disrupt the functioning of the country’s foreign policy apparatus. Several ministers and other top officials have already been forced to cancel travel plans because ministry staff refused to issue them diplomatic passports.

Besides refusing to issue diplomatic passports to people who do not work for the Foreign Ministry, employees have also stopped providing services to new political appointees within Israel’s diplomatic service. The workers union also instructed ministry employees to disregard the usual dress code and come to work in jeans and T-shirts.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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