A new round of diplomat-bashing

In the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, a small room is dedicated to the memory of the men and women of the foreign service who died in terror attacks abroad.

June 26, 2013 22:06
2 minute read.
Anti-Morsi protest in Cairo's Tahrir Square

Anti-Morsi protests in Cairo 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Let’s face it: In Israel diplomat-bashing is a national sport. Our representatives abroad are simultaneously reviled and envied for their alleged princely lifestyle. Items reflecting badly on an ambassador or their spouse are sure to make headlines. Yet Israelis, who are always complaining that the whole world is against them, fail to see that their diplomats are out there trying to stem the flow. That they are not doing too well reflects not on them, but on the government which does not give them the tools they need.

There is no money for public diplomacy, or “hasbara,” and less and less money for the diplomats on the front lines. Salaries in Jerusalem have always been low, with younger diplomats often receiving supplemental income from the state. Postings abroad were better paid and families could save a little money. No more. In many countries our diplomats just can’t make ends meet.

But that is not all. Life abroad is getting increasingly hazardous for them and for their families. They have to be constantly on the alert since they are a prime targets for terrorists. Then there are the so-called “hardship posts,” such as some African countries where electricity is in short supply and violence rampant. The situation has gotten so bad ministry staffers are turning down once-coveted foreign postings.

Unfortunately, no one seems to care.

It’s been a while since a minister of foreign affairs really thought about the people in the ministry instead of seeing in his job a stepping stone to better things. Today there is not even a full-time minister. So the workers’ union launched a labor dispute in a desperate effort to get things moving.

Weeks of negotiations have led precisely nowhere. The Finance Ministry has little sympathy for them. On June 13, the deputy finance minister went as far as to say that “Knesset members can only envy the diplomats’ conditions.”

Unfortunately there was no one to point out that the boot was on the other foot. The spouses of Knesset members don’t have to give up their careers as do diplomatic spouses when posted abroad. Nor do their children have to change schools and languages time and time again.

While Knesset members and their families keep on living safely in Israel, diplomats have to face hostility and danger in many countries. In the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, a small room is dedicated to the memory of the men and women of the foreign service who died in terror attacks abroad. Happily MKs and their families have been spared so far.

And so the standoff goes on. Critics are accusing ministry workers of damaging Israel’s image and Israel’s foreign relations. They are also saying that now is not the time to ask for more money; while budget cuts are hurting most Israelis. However, giving the money allotted to a wholly superfluous “international relations ministry” to the Foreign Ministry might have gone a long way toward alleviating the issue.

The author is a former president of the association of Israeli diplomatic wives.

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