All Israeli embassies and consulates around the world shut down early Wednesday as diplomats and military attachés went on strike in a long-simmering dispute with the Finance Ministry over expense stipends paid to envoys.
The move, coordinated by the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry and the Histadrut Labor Federation, came after the Treasury reportedly backtracked on previous understandings and said it would force the envoys to pay back thousands of dollars that they had been reimbursed for expenses.
The closure came into effect at 1 a.m on Wednesday morning Israel time.
Israeli diplomats have long complained about low wages and poor working conditions. Once every few years they enact labor sanctions, which are usually followed by a general strike — with mixed results. In January 2011, they thwarted a planned visit to Israel by then-Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, but otherwise successes have been rare for the Foreign Ministry’s workers union.
Three years later, after weeks of increased labor sanctions, which included the cessation of any contacts with foreign governments and the suspension of all consular services to Israelis abroad, they shut down the ministry’s headquarters in Jerusalem and 103 embassies and consulates worldwide for the first time in Israel’s history.
In November 2014, Histadrut labor union representatives signed a comprehensive agreement with Finance Ministry officials to increase pay for Israeli diplomats, ostensibly ending the workers union’s long struggle.
However, diplomats say that five years later it has still not been fully implemented.
Beyond pay, the ministry itself has struggled with massive budget cuts.
In September the Foreign Ministry announced that it was being forced to freeze most of its diplomatic activities worldwide due to a lack of funds.
The ministry said the instruction was given by the Finance Ministry’s accountant general, due to the “grave deficit” in its budget.
Activities that were suspended included diplomats’ overseas work trips, the formulation of new diplomatic initiatives and treaties, hosting delegations of foreign diplomats and journalists in Jerusalem, renovations and maintenance at the ministry headquarters, and so on.
Over the last 20 years, the budgets of all ministries have doubled — only that of the Foreign Ministry has been cut, and now stands at a paltry NIS 1.3 billion ($367 million) per annum.
Israel currently maintains 69 embassies, 23 consulates and five special missions, including its representative at the United Nations.
In May, a report by State Comptroller Yosef Shapira found that some Israeli ambassadors and their staff were living in uninhabitable conditions while on posts abroad. Shapira’s report said that many of the 250 or so properties and staff residences under the Foreign Ministry’s charge were in a dilapidated state.