(photo credit: AP)
Stinging criticism of Tzipi Livni's performance as foreign minister that has been whispered in the ministry's corridors for the last two years burst into the open Monday at a parting ceremony she held with the ministry's employees.
"A foreign minister who is not involved in the day-to-day running of the ministry and the representations abroad, who does not take an interest in the grey day-to-day workings of the employees, is derelict in the job," said Yaakov Livneh, the head of the diplomatic employees workers' committee.
The Foreign Ministry in Israel must not just be a "springboard" for something else, said Livneh, before his words were interrupted by others in the hall who said he was out of line and that this was not the suitable forum for this type of criticism.
At the end of his speech, which included criticism of Livni's appointment of a director-general without diplomatic experience, her ineffective lobbying on behalf of better pay and conditions for the workers, and a sense that she failed to live up to the high expectations that greeted her when she entered the job some three years ago, Livneh was greeted with a smattering of boos, but also with an equal measure of applause.
Livneh did praise the outgoing foreign minister for significantly reducing the number of political appointments to diplomatic positions, saying this was an "important contribution" to Israel's foreign service.
Livni blithely dismissed Livneh's criticism by saying, also to applause, "I have learned during my three years in the Foreign Ministry that behind every whining workers' committee are dedicated workers."
Livni did not tackle the criticism at all, instead speaking in general terms about the work of the ministry, and the need for Israel to avoid "withdrawing into itself" amid a feeling that the whole world was against it.
One Foreign Ministry worker said that while he agreed with some of Livneh's criticism, diplomacy starts at home, and there were better places to air these types of grievances.
Director-General Aaron Abramovich completely ignored the criticism, speaking in glowing terms about the Livni era at the ministry and saying that she left the ministry a far better place than she found it.
Nevertheless, what Livneh said reflected attitudes that are frequently heard in the ministry, which is reeling from a morale crisis caused by a long-standing battle between the diplomatic and administrative workers, with the 400 diplomatic workers claiming that the 600 administrative employees are taking plum jobs and budgets away from them.
Livni has also been criticized sharply for staying completely distant from the staff, working with three or four people in the ministry, and keeping everyone else pretty much outside the loop.
One senior official said that during Operation Cast Lead Livni did not meet even once with the ministry's senior staff, and in no away showed any appreciation for the work of the ministry's employees.
Another problem sapping the ministry's morale has to do with personnel management. For instance, Alan Baker, formerly the ministry's legal adviser and an ex-ambassador to Canada, quit the ministry earlier this year after waiting in vain for some five months for a suitable position following his return from Ottawa.
Baker said he wrote to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Livni about possible positions, and received letters back - though none of them with offers - from Olmert and Barak, but no response at all from Livni, his boss.
Baker said, and others in the ministry have confirmed, that there were dozens of veteran diplomats who formerly headed missions abroad who were now sitting at home, doing odd projects for the ministry while waiting for some suitable new appointment.
By the same token, the ministry is badly understaffed abroad, with not enough young diplomats available to take up positions in the less glamorous, hardship posts among the country's more than 90 representations overseas. While this was not a problem created under Livni, the situation, according to various Foreign Ministry employees, has only gotten worse in recent years.
Baker attributed this to an overall "inept functioning" inside the ministry.