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One would think that with 3,000 applicants clamoring this year for some 20 spots in the Foreign Ministry's cadets course, Israel's embassies and consulates abroad would be serviced by the best, brightest and most qualified. But one would be sorely mistaken, at least according to the chapter on the Foreign Ministry in the latest report from the State Comptroller's Office.
In a follow-up to a 2006 report that pointed out systemic flaws in personnel management at the ministry, the comptroller describes a situation where the Foreign Ministry is chronically short of diplomats, but heavy with administrative workers who - though not qualified - move on to diplomatic positions abroad.
As one Foreign Minister employee put it after reading the report, it's extremely difficult to enter the diplomatic corps through the cadets' course, so the best way to become an Israeli diplomat is get a job as a driver or mail sorter in the ministry.
There are three employment tracks in the ministry: a diplomatic track, one for administrative officers who will work in the country's representations abroad, and one for administrative workers in Israel.
According to the report, while there is a shortage of about 67 diplomats and some 187 workers trained for administrative jobs in the country's diplomatic missions abroad, there is a surplus of around 279 administrative workers in Israel. Since there are more positions to fill overseas than diplomats or trained administrative people to fill them, these jobs often go to administrative personnel - secretaries, drivers, security staff, researchers and legal advisers - who are under qualified.
"Instead of the ministry training diplomatic workers and workers to fill administrative positions abroad through a cadets' course, many of these positions in both these classifications were filled by administrative workers who were not trained as diplomats and many of whom lack academic training, do not know languages at an acceptable level, and who lack the necessary experience needed for these positions," the comptroller wrote.
These words give credence to legendary tales in the ministry of officials serving in top diplomatic posts abroad who have no university education or diplomatic training, and who started in the ministry as mail clerks and drivers, only to rise through the ranks. According to Foreign Ministry sources, key hasbara (public diplomacy) positions in the embassies in Paris and London remain vacant because the ministry simply does not have enough qualified people.
According to the comptroller, from July 2006 until May 2008 the ministry appointed as consular officials or administrative officials abroad some 40 administrative employees, most of whom lacked university degrees.
"Some of these were given diplomatic roles," the report found.
Even worse, "in some of the diplomatic missions, especially in small missions in countries classified as 'difficult to serve,' the role of administrative officer was filled by a security official or a local worker who was not a ministry employee and who did not have the necessary experience to fill those positions."
The report said that in some cases candidates were appointed to fill jobs overseas even though some members of the appointments committee did not feel that they were qualified. In some of these cases, these people were recalled shortly after they were dispatched abroad.
The comptroller wrote in conclusion that the Foreign Ministry needed to improve its organizational structure, and - stating the painfully obvious - to fill its professional ranks with graduates of the cadets' course, set minimum requirements for all positions both in Israel and abroad, and do everything possible to appoint people with the qualifications necessary to run administrative and financial matters in Israel's embassies and consulates.