Israeli diplomats’ strike causes upheaval


JERUSALEM (JTA) — A strike by Israeli Foreign Ministry employees has broadened, halting defense-related exports and freezing assistance for Israelis abroad.

The strike, which began several weeks ago and has added sanctions on a weekly and now daily basis, has included refusing to cooperate with other ministries and institutions such as the Prime Minister’s Office, the Mossad and the army; disrupting diplomatic mail service; and refusing to cooperate on visits of dignitaries and state delegations.

Earlier this month, a delegation of 500 that included business leaders and was led by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had to be canceled due to a lack of cooperation from Foreign Ministry personnel. A visit scheduled for next month by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and several of her Cabinet ministers to attend the annual joint Israel-Germany Cabinet session is in danger of cancellation.

Foreign Ministry diplomats are asking that their salaries be brought in line with intelligence and defense department employees. Their union claims that many employees have turned to welfare services for assistance. Ynet reported last month that some diplomats had cut their service short because they could not afford to live in their host country.

The workers struck briefly in the summer, initially refusing to handle Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington, but giving in due to the seriousness of the visit.

On Tuesday, the Foreign Ministry announced that it could not provide assistance to Israelis traveling abroad due to the sanctions and absolved itself of responsibility for the safety of Israelis abroad.

Israeli embassies the previous day began withholding security and trade assistance to Israeli companies abroad, in effect halting defense-related exports. Earlier in the week, Israeli ambassadors cut off all contact with foreign ministries, prime minister’s and president’s offices in the countries in which they serve.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told Haaretz that Foreign Ministry staffers have been offered a raise of 8.75 percent to their base salaries in addition to other extras. He said diplomats that serve abroad twice would have a 14.74 percent increase in base wages, which could rise to 22.75 percent on a future deployment.

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