Public Apathy as Foreign Ministry Strike Drags On

YERUSHALAYIM -

After news of a reportedly imminent settlement in the Foreign Ministry workers strike failed to materialize last week, it now appears that a solution could be far off.

“I cannot tell you at the moment how long [the strike] will take,” Yair Frommer, the head of the Workers Union, told The Times of Israel. “It could take days, it could take weeks, it could take more.”

But despite the shutdown of the Ministry headquarters in Yerushalayim and all 103 missions abroad, there has been little public reaction, and that could hurt the workers’ fight for higher wages.

“The strike at the end of the day will hurt the diplomats,” a former senior diplomat said last week. “You’re as good as your threats. But if you materialize your threats, then the threats are gone. If the threats aren’t biting, then you lost a major card and this is what the Foreign Ministry has lost.”

Although he served as a diplomat for 20 years, the official conceded that “people don’t care. They really don’t need the Foreign Ministry.”

What the strike seems to be demonstrating is that Israel’s diplomatic personnel are largely dispensable. For the last few months, since work slowdowns preceding the open-ended strike took effect, other government offices or individuals took over for the Foreign Ministry.

Secretary of State John Kerry comes and goes, UK Prime Minister David Cameron came and went; and if Pope Francis has to cancel his visit next month, it will not bring the people out into the streets. Even the cancellation of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s own planned trip to Latin America has not drawn him into the labor dispute.

Tourists who lost their passports are stuck without consular services, Filipino caretakers who visited their families back home are likewise stuck, and Israeli embassies have stopped assisting in the transport of bodies of deceased citizens. But the hardships caused have not elicited an outcry, either. As for “the world’s biggest Seder in Nepal,” the organizers say they will have it without the Foreign Ministry’s usual help bringing in supplies.

However, the real impact of the strike may be unrelated to canceled VIP visits or stranded Israeli tourists.

“The fact is that there are all sorts of other things which cause frustration because of things we’re not doing because of the sanctions,” Daniel Taub, Israel’s ambassador in London, said during a recent interview. “When we have missiles fired on Israel, or when we have weapons that are being intercepted [on ships such as the Klos-C, which Israel says attempted to smuggle Iranian weapons into Gaza] — those are things what we would generally be giving significant briefings about, we would be making sure they get attention in the media.” But during the strike, no such meetings or briefings are being held. Diplomats are not even permitted to speak with the press officially. Taub agreed to speak to The Times of Israel only about the strike and would not discuss any other matters.

“We hear a lot of statements from Israel’s leadership and of course the world’s Jewish leadership about the importance that they’re attaching today to combating delegitimization, to combating the BDS movement, to making sure that Israel’s profile is raised and so on. It’s hard to square those kind of statements with the treatment to which Israeli diplomats abroad, who are on the front lines of that battle, are being treated,” he said.

“People just assume or take it for granted, when there is no crisis, that it happens by itself. But it truly does not.”