Diplomatic funding

The government does not lack resources.

By
July 23, 2019 08:56
3 minute read.
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu walks with his entourage in the Knesset on Wednesday night.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu walks with his entourage in the Knesset on Wednesday night. . (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

In late June, the union of Foreign Ministry workers threatened to halt preparations for President Reuven Rivlin to visit South Korea. It was one of many increasing series of conflicts between the Foreign Ministry and the government over treatment of the ministry. This involves arguments over budgets and long-term austerity measures that have affected the ministry and resulted in strikes.

It isn’t the first time strikes have taken place. In 2014, Foreign Ministry employees held a strike at more than 100 embassies and missions around the world. In April 2017, around 1,200 employees also went on strike due to low salaries. In August 2018, another strike paralyzed Israeli embassies and consulates.

Conditions for foreign service employees have been dismal over the years and have steadily eroded during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 10 years in office. For instance, in 2014 the employees complained about low salaries, estimated at between NIS 6,000-9,000 a month and said that a third of the staff had left their work over 15 years due to wage complaints.
Herb Keinon reported last week that the Foreign Ministry does not have money to pay annual dues to a number of international organizations – and for the first time ever, has not paid its mandatory annual fees to the 47-member Council of Europe in Strasbourg or to the 43-member Union for the Mediterranean headquartered in Barcelona.

In a country like Israel, which faces diplomatic challenges that often seem unparalleled in the world, the Foreign Ministry should be the elite spearhead in terms of investment by the government. Instead it has been starved of resources and repeatedly neglected. This is perplexing given Netanyahu’s record of seeking out foreign relations in the Persian Gulf and in Africa, among other places. In fact, the last decade has been one of great achievement for Israel in this regard.

Nevertheless the Foreign Ministry is treated as if it is some kind of drag on the economy, rather than an integral and important part of the government. It’s not as if Israel needs to subject the ministry to austerity.

The government does not lack resources. And the slow starvation of the ministry has not come in the framework of a massive overhaul designed to reform it. Instead it has come in the form of appearing to ignore the systematic and widespread complaints over the years at the ministry.

In January 2018, Israel even decided to close seven diplomatic posts abroad. This is perplexing, since the prime minister seems to want to advance Israeli relations, while the ministry, in its budget fight, can’t get resources to keep itself afloat.

For instance, a 2018 report indicated that the Finance Ministry wanted the Foreign Ministry to close 22 of its 103 missions abroad for budget reasons. Israel is acting like it is one of the poorest countries in the world, rather than an economic powerhouse and a hi-tech center.

Why is that? Why is it that when it comes to almost everything else, Israel appears at the cutting edge of technology and know-how, but when it comes to its foreign service, Israel is failing?

Part of the reason may be that elements of the ministry’s role have been sponged up by the Prime Minister’s Office as part of Netanyahu’s overall drive to consolidate power and ministries in his last government. It may also be due to the fact that Israel’s defense establishment acts as its own kind of foreign office helping drive the country’s relations in the all-important defense realm.

The Foreign Ministry’s role is not relegated to only dealing with passports and minor issues. It also arranges officials visits and is involved in economic deals. Business delegations from India, China and Turkey were recently unable to get visas due to strikes at the ministry.

Solving the crisis at the Foreign Ministry must be a goal of the next government. This doesn’t mean appeasing every demand by the workers. But a widespread reform and expansion of the diplomatic corps should be a priority to enable Israel to advance its interests and project its power around the world.



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