In the summer of 1994 my older brother Oren and I exited Philadelphia’s Delaware Avenue multiplex after watching the action film Speed. Before entering my brother’s car and returning home, we hunched over and looked under each wheel. Viewers exiting the cinema laughed at us thinking we had taken the film a bit too seriously, when in fact we were looking for suspicious objects placed under the car, as do all families of Israeli diplomats stationed abroad.
Being the son of an Israeli diplomat has brought with it many advantages. During my family’s three-year stay in Philadelphia I had the opportunity to enjoy all that America had to offer. While Israel had just launched a second television channel, our American cable provider offered more than a hundred channels. Our apartment house, referred to by mother as The Grand Hotel, had a swimming pool and tennis courts and the suburb in which we lived was one of the most affluent along America’s main line.
Me and my older brother attended private Jewish day schools which provided us with the highest level of education possible and while our friends in Israel had never heard of the term “plex,” we had giant multiplexes all around us.
But our extended family was far away. My aunt and uncle, which I often believe to be an extension of my Mother’s body, were nowhere to be seen. Our Shabbat table, which usually seats 15, now seated only us.
It was the four of us, the amazing four of us, against the world. Emails and Skype had not yet entered our lives, so news of the extended family traveled slowly, either by mail or monthly phone calls to my grandmother.
We had left our friends, co-workers, classmates and loved ones behind and were now in unfamiliar city with unfamiliar rules, such as “exact change for the bus.”
Above all there was the strange feeling of not knowing one’s own house.
As the son of an Israeli diplomat I am intimately familiar with the advantages and disadvantages of being a member of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. While Israeli diplomats get to tour the world, they do so at a heavy cost. Spouses of Israeli diplomats are often forced to abandon their own careers and settle for whatever employment can be found at our embassies. Children of diplomats often spend so many years abroad that they hardly feel Israeli, and the experiences that define Israeliness, such as belonging to a scout’s tribe or cheating on a matriculation exam, are lost to them. Such a childhood is also accompanied by heightened security measures such as fortifications in front of embassies, armored cars and panic buttons installed in every room.
As the son of an Israeli diplomat I am also intimately familiar with the dedication our diplomats have to their chosen profession. Members of our Foreign Ministry dedicate their life to civil service. They ensure our national security, promote our economic prosperity and safeguard our national interests.
Israel’s greatest foreign policy achievements in recent years, be it the international sanctions against Iran or the struggle against economic boycotts of Israel, are a continuous battle being waged daily by members of Israel’s foreign service.
Yet in the past few years, the cost of being an Israeli diplomat has become too high. Their wages have not been adjusted to the cost of living abroad in over a decade, nor have their wages in Israel been adjusted for inflation. Given these deteriorating conditions, young diplomats often feel no choice but to leave the ministry in search of higher wages.
This week, the members of the Foreign Ministry have gone on strike closing the doors to the ministry in Jerusalem as well as the doors to all our embassies abroad. I do not believe they have done so lightly, or selfishly. They are striking in order to demand fair pay and better working conditions, conditions which shall ensure that young and gifted Israelis join the ministry and continue its tradition of excellence.
We cannot expect dedication from our diplomats without being dedicated to them and their families.
Given all that our diplomats have done for us, I think it is time for us to support them in their important struggle.
The author is finishing his mass media studies at Tel Aviv University. He has previously contributed to The Jerusalem Post, 972online magazine and The Jewish Daily Forward. He blogs at www.ilanmanor.com.