carnegie logo

Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

« Previous | Babylon & Beyond Home | Next »

ISRAEL: Poor diplomacy strikes foreign relations

Israel's foreign relations are suffering these days from an outbreak of poor diplomacy. Not necessarily bad; just poor.

Ladies_tailors_strikers Foreign Ministry employees say they are just that, poor. Their basic salaries have been devalued by about 40% since last being updated in the early 1990s, and many of them rely on help from welfare services, say activists from the ministry workers' union.

The diplomats have years of experience, a stack of academic degrees and high motivation to serve. They also have families to feed and pensions to fund, and say neither is doable on their paychecks, which some revealed on a popular news site. Only an idealist or a fool would join the foreign service under these conditions, they said. Finance Ministry officials said the paychecks didn't reflect considerable extras.

Demanding a collective revision that among other things would match their salaries to those of like personnel serving in Israel's intelligence agencies and defense system, the Foreign Ministry workers' union entered a labor dispute more than six months ago. Dissatisfied with the ministry's proposals, the diplomatic staff of 830 -- 550 in Israel, 280 abroad --  went on strike several weeks ago.

They've done this before. In June, the kicked up some dust and infuriated the Estonian president after a driver abandoned his wife at a restaurant in Abu Ghosh. Later, they refused to prepare Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Washington but then relented because of the importance of the visit. They refused to prepare Netanyahu's visit to Greece in August. We'll do without you, the prime minister's office said, and got the Mossad intelligence agency to do it instead. Furious at their colleagues for breaking their picket line, ministry workers withheld expenses and other payments from Mossad personnel abroad.

No more Mr. Nice Guy. Now they're coming to work in jeans and sandals and "I'm a poor diplomat" T-shirts. Their actions have gradually expanded to paralyze work altogether. 

Memos, position papers and various services are withheld from all but Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Except for special allowances like a recent coordination of passage for a navy vessel, services are being withheld from the prime minister's office, government ministries, the Mossad, the Shin Bet intelligence service, the army and parliament. Diplomatic missions abroad have been instructed to apologize to their hosts for potential damage to bilateral relations but cancel all meetings and cut off contacts. Israelis abroad can't renew passports. Applications for tourist and business languish unprocessed.

Some of the damage being caused by the strike is invisible, like in the intelligence department, for example. Disruption of diplomatic mail means sensitive materials are either compromised by regular mail, or just never sent to intelligence personnel abroad. Other fallout is more high-profile, as visits from heads of state and dignitaries are postponed at a time when Israel needs all the diplomatic help it can get in many fields. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the strike was causing "strategic damage to Israel's foreign relations"; workers contend that it is the treasury's position that undermines the country's foreign relations.

Here's a partial list of the casualties:

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev canceled his visit to Israel after staff refused to prepare for the visit and threatened to ruin it. President Shimon Peres apologized profusely. Foreign Minister Lieberman was furious, having marked tightening relations with Russia a pillar of his foreign policy efforts. Medvedev's intention of keeping the Palestinian leg of his trip is now in danger too, as Foreign Ministry officials rejected the Russian Embassy's request for assistance in coordinating crossing over the Allenby Bridge with Israel's police and Shin Bet.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is slated to come to Israel next month with a delegation of Cabinet ministers to attend the annual joint Israeli-German Cabinet session. Israel's request for a subsidized defense package including a sixth submarine and two warships was turned down by Germany last summer but could come up again, if Merkel's visit isn't canceled.

The visits of Croatian and Slovenian prime ministers are also likely to be called off and the fate of the Norwegian foreign minister's plans remains unknown. Israel's own ministers are forced to cancel trips; for example, Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon scrapped a visit to Sri Lanka. Israeli exporters might still be able to tap into that rapidly growing economy, but not this week.

Also called off was the visit of the commander of U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, Alberto Asarta Cuevas, scheduled to come next week with U.N. Special Coordinator to Lebanon Michael Williams to discuss plans for Israel's withdrawal from the northern part of the divided village Ghajar. The still-expected conclusions of the special tribunal investigating the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri were also to have been on the agenda.

Strikes are not uncommon in Israel. Some are seasonal recurrences, timed to inflict maximum damage: strikes by passport processors before holidays, airport staff during holidays, teachers at the end of summer vacation. It took the intervention of the prime minister's office to end the recent 43-day strike of state prosecutors, which put bad guys back on the streets and wrecked havoc on Israel's legal system. By the time Israeli port workers went on strike last week, everyone was much smarter, and a wage settlement was reached within three days. It's probably the $17-million price tag that comes with every day of that strike that did it.

Now the trick is to calculate the costs of poor diplomacy.

-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem

Photo: Tailors go on strike in New York in 1910. Credit: Wikimedia Commons






Comments () | Archives (15)

Few are wrongly assuming Palestine never existed as a state with functioning administration before Oslo agreement, I came up across these pictures through another blogger, pictures of Palestinian Passport, Paper Money and a Stamp under British mandate before creation of State of Israel, India among other states under British rule had a similar set of paperwork's with their own names of course!

from being a young boy,on travels with my father i would hear and later in life be told you jews have plenty of money,why?what makes people think because we are jewish we are loaded,and by your remarks,us israeli's
have more than others,look back at what jews we permitted to do as jobs,look at how the jewish people like asians,would club together and save,a jew or an asian,will make a decision and act,others tend to dither and loose the chances,so why should we be singled out more than others we have cut our cloth mainly on other peoples desighns,on what we should and should not be permitted to do,not by our own choices,so please don't blast us because we have done our best with what we had to hand at the time,like any other country we have very poor people and yes some of us have money what is so different about that,when other countries boast a millionaire on every corner,working for the state is not all it is cracked up to be,unlike many places where huge expence a/c are available,and its all charged at the stroke of a pen or a quick phone call.
so i have to think of your comment as being without hands on knowledge,of what its like to have been without enough money to put jam on your bread, i'm not interested in your bridges,but i can do you a deal on some RR cars if you are wishes.

Let me tell you why the Palestinians live without state and the problem of this conflict is still on ,it is due to the reluctance of both sides to reach an agreement up to date that will satisfy both sides ,the rest is history of violence and misery that has not ended yet ,in this conflict both sides pay a dear price for the "political short sighted goals"

@ David Bradvica - Jordan is the "Palestinian Arab" homeland and with those in lebanon is home to 3/4 of all of them. They never lived in the Negev at all, which is 3/4 of the land mass of Israel before 1967. They have passports.
I suppose you support Puerto Rican independance, too? How about splitting Sudan between the Muslims and Xtians?

if you believe the story that these diplomats are poor or let us go further on this, if you believe any israeli is poor, I have 2 bridges in San Francisco to sell you and I will throw in few bridges from New York city for free. When they say poor, they are just regular millionaries in single digits i.e < 10 Million. Oh Boy, I wish I were this poor.

@ABG: Nice attempt trying to change the subject. So very Zionist apologist of you. BTW, Palestinians exist in a stateless nature because the Zionists systematically dispossessed them for approx. 75 years in order to clear "the land without people."

Cheapskates! Ha ha ha but what does it matter?

Why fully fund the scheming, backstabbing, and lies of foreign policy of this nasty little rogue theocracy? They seem to be able to steal illegally occupied land, lie to allies about making peace, and feed US media a crock without a fully funded diplomatic core. Such a deal!

@Skeptic: The $3 billion is a lot more complex than your repeated simplistic analysis.

@RWh: Funny that you're mad at Israel as a welfare, but have not one problem at all with the Palestinians spending their $500 million a year on missiles, i.e. yet more reasons to becoming stateless, pitiful, and, oh yeah, in need of welfare.

And they say the Jews are the best comedians.

Well, I'd like to point out that a few months ago you were praising the author of this article. As I remember it, you've said that she was very reliable, and that she spoke Hebrew......What happened in such a short time? Don't like the truth? Huh? I think that Israel in general lacks the concept of diplomacy. And I can see why now!

If an important ministry like the Foreign Office is being treated so callously, one has to wonder how the rest of the government is operating. And one has to wonder if there is a political component that's not being revealed in the story. It's very odd either way.

Israel's foreign relations are suffering these days from an outbreak of radical islam which is bent on destroying Israel

The same day Arafat signed the Declaration of Principles on the White House lawn in 1993, he explained his actions on Jordan TV. Here's what he said: "Since we cannot defeat Israel in war, we do this in stages. We take any and every territory that we can of Palestine, and establish a sovereignty there, and we use it as a springboard to take more. When the time comes, we can get the Arab nations to join us for the final blow against Israel."

Why on earth should we in the US care about a strike of Israeli public employees or whether it is good or bad for ISRAEL?

Our concern must be the effect, if any, on the INTERESTS OF THE UNITED STATES.

Seeing none, this guest opinion is not worth the ink it cost the LA Times.

"Only an idealist or a fool would join the foreign service" is the premise of this article and the subsequent paragraphs attempt to prove this thesis that Lieberman is a fool and the goals Israel sets for itself (survival) are too idealistic. All of the 'facts' reported are not sources and they are a jaundiced outside view of what's happening. As for the salaries, I can think of no better way of dismissing an entrenched tenured staff that is at odds with Lieberman and the PM.
The article contains wishful speculation having cited Medved's cancellation, suggests the Germans will also cancel both the trip and the submarine sale, but is totally unsubstantiated and unrealted to the Russian cancellation.
Visits are cancelled to the really important countries; Sri Lanka, Croatia, Slovenia and other world centers, so what? What agricultural expertise does Sri Lanka have to offer Israel? just the opposite as its a seller market, if they want to eat better, they'll contact the Israelis for new technology or continue starving; their choice.
"put bad guys back on the streets and wrecked havoc on Israel's legal system." unlike its neighbors Israel has a legal system and Israeli crime is 25% of that in the USA; the Israeli murder rate for the entire country, Jew agasint Jew, is less than any American city of comperable size and economic status by a factor of 75%. In some years the number of intra-Jewish community murders is less than 10 murders for the entire country of 6 million Jews. Most of the murders are Arab agasint Arab and Arab agasint Jew; ten times as many.
This article is just slurs, speculation, doomsday saying, and unworthy of any major metropolitan newspaper, even the LA Times.

Good God, $3 billion being drained from the U.S. annually and they STILL don't have their house in order!

"..Israel's request for a subsidized defense package". Is this all Israel can do is beg from the world to subsidize it's ability to survive. When I read this, all I could see is another request from the U.S. for more money. They are brave people but they need to stand on their own two feet and put the tin cups away.


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...

Recent News
Introducing World Now |  September 23, 2011, 8:48 am »



About the Contributors