Embassies and Missions On Strike Over Gov’t Reimbursement Policy

The Israeli Embassy in Athens.

Israeli embassies and missions around the world were on strike Thursday, after the Foreign Ministry announced Wednesday night that it was halting payment on money laid out over budget by embassies for ceremonies and events that were not documented or backed up by receipts. In addition, Defense Ministry workers said they were considering closing crossings into Israel from Gaza and Jordan in support of the Foreign Ministry staff.

The issue of undocumented expenses has been one of great controversy between Foreign Ministry staff abroad and officials in Israel. In 2018, a deal was worked out whereby the ministry would pay half the expenses declared by embassy staff for events sponsored by embassies without receipts. Under the agreement, that payout is supposed to fall to 33% by 2022. With the declaration Wednesday night, Foreign Ministry employees accused it of reneging on the agreement.

The announcement Wednesday followed one earlier in the week that rankled ministry employees. Due to its deficit, the ministry announced that it was freezing funds that had been allocated for embassies and missions to commemorate national days, including Independence Day, Memorial Day and Yom Hashoah. On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz said that he had instructed staff to ensure that money was allocated “only for activities that are absolutely necessary.”

The move represents a change of policy direction for the ministry. For years, the Finance Ministry has been pressuring the ministry to demand that representatives supply receipts for their outlays, with diplomats saying that doing so would have a negative impact on their activities. There are many outlays that cannot be documented, such as tipping waiters, household expenses and so forth, according to the diplomats.

Yediot Acharonot quoted a senior diplomat as saying that the ministry had gone too far in its cost-cutting. “We are in shock,” he said. “How far have we fallen when the State of Israel cannot respect its own special days? Bad enough we were given budgets that were in no way adequate for the expenses we incurred, but now even this they are taking away.”