I would normally never get involved in an Israeli labor dispute. Not being Israeli, I know my place. But in the case of the decision by Israel’s diplomats to walk out after failing to reach a satisfactory deal with the government, I readily confess that I can’t remain silent.
I know well many of Israel’s diplomats, having met them in Jerusalem, New York, and the four corners of the earth over the course of several decades involved in AJC’s global advocacy. Most are truly impressive, serve Israel proudly and thoughtfully, and endure hardships that may not always be apparent to the casual observer.
Sadly, I’ve learned, however, they are also often undervalued and underappreciated.
Let’s start with the job itself.
Israel is not exactly a large, self-sufficient nation, if any such country exists. It needs lifelines to the world. Its diplomats fulfill that role. Name a country, big or small, and there are essential Israeli interests. At the end of the day, it is the diplomats who doggedly pursue those interests, be they in the bilateral or multilateral arenas. Remove them from the equation, and Israel is vastly diminished as a nation, with its global position at greater risk.
Indeed, the work is so indispensable that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs must be able to attract – and retain – the best and the brightest. But how to do so when the pay scale is as surprisingly low as I discovered it to be?
Moreover, the work may seem glamorous from the outside, but up close it is demanding on the diplomats and, yes, their families.
Imagine, for instance, serving in a country located in a time zone six or eight hours ahead of or behind Israel’s. That means the diplomats have to be on call not only during all the working hours of the country in which they’re serving, but also many additional hours because of the time differences with Israel and its working rhythm. And while Israel has a Sunday-Thursday work week, most other places have a Monday-to-Friday schedule. Add to that the crises which don’t necessarily respect the clock and you can easily have a non-stop job.
Consider, too, that, with small staffs in most embassies, consulates, and missions, there’s a tremendous workload on the shoulders of each of the diplomats. Two or three diplomats to cover a country of, say, ten million people, with its myriad centers of power and influence, can easily be stretched to the limit, and then some.
Further, moving every three to four years takes its toll on families. Spouses generally have to give up their professional careers, and children are moved back and forth between Israel and various countries, at times causing understandable family tensions and traumas.
And the work can be very dangerous. Israel recently marked the 22nd anniversary of the terrorist attack on its embassy in Buenos Aires, in which 29 people were killed, including a few whom I knew. Alas, that was not the only assault on an Israeli installation abroad, not to mention the various thwarted incidents. In other words, diplomats surrounded day and night by armed guards don’t exactly have an easy or care-free life.
In today’s world, Israel seeks to widen and deepen its diplomatic, political, strategic, economic, cultural, and other ties with a whole host of countries, drawing on its many, and growing, assets, from cyber security to water management, agriculture to medicine, innovation to high-tech, and counter-terrorism to environmental protection. Diplomats are on the cutting edge in presenting Israel as a “brand” worth knowing, exploring, and engaging.
At the same time, the war against Israel has, of course, expanded from Israel’s borders to the global stage. The BDS campaigns, the flytillas and flotillas, the delegitimizers, the one-staters, and other hypocrites have taken to the media, the courts, the universities, the intelligentsia, the streets, and countless other venues in their relentless efforts to tarnish Israel’s good name, declare it a pariah state, and bring it to its knees. Israel’s diplomats are the front-line combatants in standing up to these determined adversaries. This is all about Israel’s national security, nothing less.
My earnest hope is that Israel’s government will quickly find a way to recognize the indispensable role of its nation’s diplomats and offer them improved working conditions – and the respect that goes with it. Handled well, this could be a win-win situation rather than, perforce, a zero-sum outcome.
I don’t know of many Israelis who choose diplomacy to get rich. Rather, it offers a chance to represent a country they love and whose interests they want to protect and advance. There can be few higher callings. I know. I’ve met literally hundreds of Israel’s diplomats in scores of countries over several decades. They deserve the chance to return to their vital posts with the dignity befitting their chosen career paths.