Foreign Ministry Staff Decries Budget Cuts

YERUSHALAYIM -

While Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sent back pictures of his visit to the Taj Mahal on Tuesday, in Israel opposition politicians and diplomats were slamming his government’s planned budget cuts that threaten closure of some 22 missions around the world.

At a meeting on Tuesday of the Knesset’s Caucus for Strengthening Israel’s Foreign Service, Noga Arbel, deputy chair of the Foreign Ministry’s workers’ committee, decried the proposed cuts as a “strategic terror attack” against Israel’s foreign policy apparatus, The Times of Israel reported.

“We’re not a country that’s suffering from having too many friends in the international arena,” she said, and that shrinking the foreign service will harm Israel’s diplomatic efforts.

“The diplomatic front is a central front, and the State of Israel must not abandon it,” said Hanan Goder, chairman of the Foreign Ministry’s Workers Union.

“The closure of seven missions, budget cuts and manpower cuts are seriously undermining diplomats’ ability to tackle these challenges,” he said.

After an initial outcry when the plan was announced last Friday, the streamlining was modified, and now the remaining 96 missions will get NIS 175 million (about $50 million) additional funding, and no staff will be fired.

But Goder argued it won’t be enough. “That’s little. It’s not enough,” he said pointedly. “We checked and found out: No other country is spending as little as we are on its foreign service.”

Israel’s current 103 diplomatic missions — before the anticipated cuts — compare unfavorably to such countries as Turkey (233), Iran (142) and Saudi Arabia (113). The Palestinian Authority has the same number of missions as Israel.

The member states of the Arab League together have 1,799 international missions, according to Goder’s list.

Relative to other countries of comparable population, Israel’s foreign service is small, he said. For example, with 8.3 million inhabitants, Switzerland has 21 more diplomatic missions than Israel.

The coalition did not send a representative to the session, where a large number of opposition MKs and analysts from think-tanks took turns criticizing Netanyahu for allowing the Foreign Ministry to be diminished, even as he travels the world on behalf of Israel and frequently touts his diplomatic achievements.