Immigration to Israel was halted indefinitely on Wednesday due to a labor dispute between the Foreign Ministry workers’ union and the government, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

According to Jewish Agency director of aliya Yehuda Sharf, potentially “hundreds” of prospective immigrants worldwide have been told that they must put their travel plans on hold, as Israeli consulates are no longer issuing aliya visas necessary for obtaining citizenship.

Sharf told the Post that the Jewish Agency is “saddened by the distress to the new immigrants caused by the strike, and intends to do everything in its power to alleviate their problems.”

“We are very concerned that olim may suffer financial damages, as many of them have already made plans and sold their property,” Sharf said. “There are others who have arranged to start new jobs or registered for educational courses. There are even those who have been assigned a call-up date to the Israel Defense Forces.”

Prospective immigrants are among the thousands of people – including Israelis abroad, foreign statesmen and diplomats – caught in the crossfire created by the Foreign Ministry workers’ five-month-old labor dispute.

The ministry’s workers’ committee has steadily ratcheted up its sanctions, issuing directives last week to end all consular services abroad – a move that would include measures impacting prospective immigrants. This week, the workers announced that they would end all support given to foreign diplomats in Israel.

As a result of the sanctions, the Foreign Ministry has stopped providing logistical support for any ministerial trips abroad, ceased all cooperation with the IDF and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and refused to give assistance to visiting foreign dignitaries. On Sunday, Hungarian Human Resources Minister Zoltan Balog canceled his planned trip because of the sanctions.

In a statement to the Post, Foreign Ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson said that, as part of the work dispute, “consular services are being provided only in the following cases at present: anything to do with saving lives, personal medical requirements, the transfer of bodies for burial and anything to do with adoption and surrogacy.”

Therefore, as of Wednesday, all aliya was put on hold.

According to Nefesh B’Nefesh, an organization that facilitates aliya from North America and the United Kingdom, the consular services moratorium has the “potential to affect hundreds of olim from the United States this summer.”

Tani Kramer, a spokesman for the organization, told the Post that while “we understand and respect the need of the Foreign Ministry’s employees to their arrangements and their benefits,” their efforts to improve their lot should not “be done on the back of new olim.”

Kramer said that Nefesh B’Nefesh is currently working together with the Jewish Agency to find “ways to continue aliya despite this obstacle.”

Zack Pyzer, a would-be immigrant from London, is one of many who is now in limbo, pending a final resolution to the strike.

In an email to the Post, Pyzer said that he was turned away by the London Consulate.

“All of my forms are now in place, and if the visa application does not start soon, there is a high chance I will not be able to make aliya in time to join [my] ulpan, as they say I can only join a few days late at most,” he wrote. “If it falls through, I have no option but to wait another six months.”

Pyzer said that “for families, or people without a stable situation in their current country, I can only imagine that this is causing havoc in their lives; you can think of 100 reasons why it can result in many of those people giving up on their dreams for another year, or maybe for much longer.”

He forwarded a letter that he said he received from a senior official in the Foreign Ministry, indicating that as many as 200 aliya visas in France and a corresponding number in Peru have been refused.

The letter’s provenance could not be confirmed by the Post.

Jewish and Zionist leaders in the Diaspora were quick to register their dismay over the work stoppage.

“This is one of the most ghastly, anti-patriotic, anti-Zionist moves imaginable,” said Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.

“The enemies of Israel are delighted with the moves of this group of workers.”

For Foreign Ministry employees “to harm the country of Israel because of their grievances should be intolerable,” he said, calling on the Knesset to pass legislation to prevent such a situation from arising again.

Rabbi Vernon Kurtz, the president of the American Zionist Movement, said that while he “appreciates the labor force’s right to make responsible decisions concerning their issues, I find it sad that individual olim and aliya in general may be harmed in the process.”

He urged the Foreign Ministry and its workers “to solve the problem as soon as possible so that the historic mission of the Zionist Movement and the State of Israel can continue.”

Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, expressed sympathy for the striking workers, even while saying that it is “clearly very disturbing that regular consular services can’t be provided.”

Hoenlein called for a speedy resolution to the dispute, so that consular officials and other Foreign Ministry workers can “go back to work full-time and provide all of the services that a Foreign Ministry needs to provide.”

In the meantime, the lack of services has had a “dramatic cause and effect on Jews all over the world,” according to a statement to the Post by the Jewish Federations of North America, a communal umbrella organization.

While some Jewish leaders have been vocal in their condemnations of the strikers, representatives of the workers have been resolute in their stance.

Speaking with the Post on Thursday, union chief Yair Frommer said that he was fighting for the very survival of Israel’s diplomatic corps.

“Today we are in the situation that one out of three diplomats that have been recruited to the cadet program leave after 10 years, and that is what I’m talking about,” he said. “People don’t see a future in the foreign service because of the working conditions.”

While he agrees with critics of the strike that “aliya is crucial for the State of Israel” and that immigration is “one of the most important elements in Israeli policy toward the Diaspora and Israeli identity,” Frommer said that it “is also one reason why we should have an acting professional foreign service; this is what we are fighting for.”

“Unfortunately,” he lamented, “this labor dispute is affecting many people, but I think that’s the only way to get the attention of policy-makers so they will understand how important it is to attend to the problems of the foreign service.”

Herb Keinon contributed to this report.

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