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Nu, what’s what with the Israeli strike?

On Monday 31 March Jewish Report spoke to a reliable source at Israel’s Embassy in SA who asked not to be named, and asked where things stood. The source confirmed that talks had begun last week but that the SA-based diplomats had heard or read no news suggesting that there was any end in sight.
by ANT KATSZ | Apr 02, 2014

It is difficult to find a definitive answer in the Israeli media as to when the strike by Israeli diplomats started or when it may end.

Last Friday, 28 March, Y-NET ran a headline claiming: “Israeli diplomats find diplomatic end to strike.” Their story went on to say that the strike would “end by Sunday (30 March) barring last-minute surprises.”

On Monday 31 March, however, Public Radio International (PRI), proclaimed that the week-old strike (which was in fact in its third week), was continuing. “if you need Israel’s consular services right now, you’re out of luck,” wrote PRI’s Itamar Eichner.

The mainstream media in Israel seem not to be covering the story with much interest or facts.

Information is scarce and mixed 

On Monday 31 March Jewish Report spoke to a reliable source at Israel’s Embassy in SA who asked not to be named, and asked where things stood. The source confirmed that talks had begun last week but that the SA-based diplomats had heard or read no news suggesting that there was any end in sight.

Public Radio International, on the other hand, proclaimed on Sunday 31 March that the week-old strike (which was in fact in its third week), that “if you need Israel’s consular services right now, you’re out of luck.”

Commenting that “an all-out diplomatic strike is not a very diplomatic thing to do,” PRI quoted Galit Baram, an Israeli diplomat based in Jerusalem, as saying: “We feel it goes against our natural inclination. But we don’t have any other (choice). These are the tools we have in order to bring the Ministry of Finance to the negotiating table and to try to find a solution to this crisis.”

The strike is over wages. The starting salary for an Israeli diplomat is only about $1,700 a month, Baram says, and diplomats haven’t had a cost of living increase in over a decade.

Israel can't fill diplomatic posts

“Diplomats abroad not only have low wages. Many have to rely on their parents for financial support, which is ludicrous,” Baram says. “We’re talking about diplomats who represent their country and they do it exceptionally well. And they have to rely on their parents as if they are teenagers or college students. This is unheard of in other foreign ministries.”

But there's not a lot of sympathy in Israel for jet-setting diplomats who get to work in exotic locations and wine and dine people for a living. In fact, Michael Freeman told Jewish Report last week that there were some 40 postings, some of them in sought-after locations, that the ministry was unable to fill due to the unwillingness of diplomatic staff to accept postings abroad.

Baram says diplomats are more like soldiers, Israel’s defenders on the front lines, living under threat of terrorism and violence. 

What happens when diplomats don't go to work?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had to cancel an historic trip to Latin America because diplomats refused to coordinate logistics. About a fourth of this year’s planned diplomatic visits to Israel have already been cancelled or postponed. The pope himself may have to cancel his visit in May.

Meanwhile, Israeli diplomats aren’t sending diplomatic cables to Israeli intelligence and defence agencies, and the world’s largest Passover meal, in Nepal, may be called off because Israeli diplomats refuse to provide the kosher food.

Israeli MFA staff picketing

PIC RIGHT: Picketing workers outside the MFA offices in Jerusalem

 

While an all-out diplomatic strike is not a very diplomatic thing to do, say all the diplomats, they felt they had no choice.

“We feel it goes against our natural inclination,” says Galit Baram, an Israeli diplomat based in Jerusalem. “But we don’t have any other chance. These are the tools we have in order to bring the Ministry of Finance to the negotiating table and to try to find a solution to this crisis.”

The strike is over wages. The starting salary for an Israeli diplomat is only about $1,700 a month, Baram says, and diplomats haven’t had a cost of living increase in over a decade.

“Diplomats abroad not only have low wages. Many have to rely on their parents for financial support, which is ludicrous,” Baram says. “We’re talking about diplomats who represent their country and they do it exceptionally well. And they have to rely on their parents as if they are teenagers or college students. This is unheard of in other foreign ministries.”

But there's not a lot of sympathy in Israel for jet-setting diplomats who get to work in exotic locations and wine and dine people for a living. But Baram says diplomats are more like soldiers, Israel’s defenders on the front lines, living under threat of terrorism and violence.

“We want to be respected, we want to be appreciated and recognized as an integral and important part of Israel’s security system,” she says. “While the military pillar in Israel is respected and revered and very generously financed, the diplomatic pillar has been neglected for many years. Our work is sometimes taken for granted.”

Yehuda Yaakov, Israel’s new consul general in New England, based in Boston, says he was “very surprised to see that the head of the Mossad (the Israeli equivalent of the CIA) complained” about the diplomats’ strike.

Israeli Embassy on strike“It’s very ironic, because last year the Israeli Foreign Ministry got Hezbollah on the European Union’s terror list,” Yaakov said. “Instead of complaining, he should thank us for the work we are doing.”

Yaakov said he received a Foreign Ministry award of excellence in 2012 for, as he put it, “intensive and coordinated activities for curbing the Iranian nuclear program.”

But then he added: “I can’t expand on that.”

That could be one of the problems diplomats have in fighting for more recognition and higher pay: they can’t be openly recognized for some of the work they do.

Baram, for instance, directs the Foreign Ministry’s department on Palestinian affairs and regional cooperation. How has the diplomatic strike affected Palestinian affairs and regional cooperation, she was asked?

No comment.

 
 

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ON SAJR.CO.ZA: Including what the Ambassador and his Deputy say. Also, read what DCM Michael Freeman’s wife wrote on the Fionance Minister’s Facebook page.


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