Senior Foreign Affairs Ministry officials warned Wednesday that Treasury plans to slash its funding will harm the country’s security and deal a fatal blow to Israel’s image and activity overseas.
Specifically, the cuts could halt ministry activity to counter Arab propaganda on social networks and will negatively affect overseas aid, which has helped Israel nurture positive relationships with the developing world, officials told the Yedioth Ahronoth daily Wednesday.
Speaking to reporters at the ministry in Jerusalem, Ambassador Gilad Cohen, deputy director general for Asia and the Pacific, decried what he described as “dramatic cuts.”
“The proposed cuts are not yet an order to close the ministry, but something very close to that,” he said, adding that it was impossible to advance Israel’s interests in the world, including promoting tourism, trade and diplomatic ties, without a properly equipped Foreign Ministry.
Officials said the cuts would wipe out the budget for inviting foreign journalists to Israel and for sending Israeli artists, lecturers and exhibitions overseas to strengthen the country’s image, while also threatening the ability of Israeli consulates abroad to help citizens in distress.
In a paper circulated to ministers on Monday in advance of Thursday’s government meeting and vote on the 2019 state budget, the Finance Ministry proposed eliminating 140 out of 686 posts at the ministry’s headquarters in Jerusalem and closing 22 out of 103 Israeli missions oversees over the next three years, transferring their work to regional offices.
While digital diplomacy is playing an increasingly important part in the ministry’s work, “there is no replacement for the people on the ground who do the legwork,” Cohen said.
The move is reportedly intended to free up NIS 216 million (62.7 million) out of a total annual budget of around NIS 1.48 billion ($430 million) for activity in the countries that are most important to Israel.
The Finance Ministry has said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also the foreign minister, supports the proposals, Yedioth reported, and it was against him that employees were directing their anger.
“There’s an atmosphere of gloom at the Foreign Ministry,” the officials were quoted as saying. “This is a patently political move. Whoever deals the fatal blow to the Foreign Ministry will have to account for the harm to the country’s security that will result from it. There are no foreign relations without missions overseas and without diplomats.”
Hanan Goder, ambassador to South Sudan and the Foreign Ministry workers’ union chairman, told Yedioth that Finance Ministry clerks must have been “smoking cannabis when they wrote this crazy proposal” and that they were behaving “like a confused soccer team, which instead of scoring a goal against the opposite team, scores own goals again and again.”
On Monday, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely called the planned cuts a “targeted assassination” of Israeli diplomacy.
“This is an outrage that we can’t abide. The Finance Ministry has decided to carry out a targeted assassination of the foreign service, and at a time when Israel is expanding its foreign relations and the ministry needs an expanded budget,” she said, vowing to meeting with Netanyahu to head off “this impossible decree.”
Israel currently has 69 embassies, 23 consulates and five special missions, including its representative at the United Nations.
Netanyahu has frequently talked of improving ties around the world, announcing last month that a new Israeli embassy will open in Rwanda.
But the ministry’s budget and conditions have been eroded over the past decade.
Diplomats went on strike in 2014 and again in 2016 after the treasury dragged its feet on implementing a 2014 agreement.
Total government expenditure in 2019 is planned to increase by just under 3.5 percent from NIS 460 billion ($134 billion) in 2018 to NIS 479 billion ($140 billion) in 2019, with NIS 100 billion ($29 billion) being set aside to pay off debts.