Israeli embassies and diplomatic missions around the world were closed Wednesday, and will remain so “until further notice,” Foreign Ministry officials said, as workers protest budget cuts that they say are impeding their ability to do their job. In a statement, the Ministry said that “we deal with advancing and promoting the State of Israel on a daily basis, but unfortunately the Finance Ministry has left us no choice but to strike, as it is harming the basic tools we need to work. We hope that the matter will be resolved soon.” On Tuesday night, Ministry officials closed checkpoints between Israel and Palestinian Authority-controlled areas of Yehuda and Shomron and Gaza.
At issue is a declaration by the Finance Ministry that missions and embassies abroad would have to severely cut back on activities such as parties and events, courses for residents of their host countries, travel and accommodations, visits of family members, and other items. The reason, said the ministry, was that it had run out of funding for those activities, and until a government could vote for additional funding, it had no choice but to cut funding for those activities.
That declaration was made at the beginning of October, and additional funding was found to keep the activities going for a month. But that money has run out, and there is still no government to vote additional funds for the Foreign Ministry – hence the strike.
Visitors to Israeli embassies or missions, or phone calls made to to offices, or even attempts to connect online, were greeted with a message similar to that put out by the Israeli Consulate in Toronto: “Our consulate and all Israeli diplomatic missions around the world will be closed tomorrow, Wednesday, October 30, 2019, due to a labor dispute with the Israeli Ministry of Finance.” The message refers visitors to the Finance Ministry for more information.
The Finance Ministry said that it was Foreign Ministry personnel abroad who were at fault: They received subsidies for activities which could be termed personal, but refused to pay income taxes on that money – hence the budget deficit. “Foreign Ministry workers are required to pay taxes like all Israelis,” the Finance Ministry said in its own statement. “Unfortunately, in their attempts to get more and better benefits, they have chosen to avoid paying taxes and thus are harming essential services. Foreign Ministry workers are not above the law.”