Plenipotentiaries’ Predicament: Pathetic or Pivotal?

Israeli Diplomats are on strike following labor disputes and a breakdown of 7 months of negotiations between the Foreign Service Workers’ Association, representing the diplomatic corps, and the Ministry of Finance. 

So other than taking action in matters of life threatening situations and burial, Israel’s embassies and consulates around the world will do nothing. No teatime with foreign representatives in, in fact, “no official visits of any kind, either in Israel or overseas,” and no issuance of visas or any consular services. That means I wont even get the DC Embassy’s newsletter that the American interns write. 

There last dispatch contained this explanation of the situation:

“Precisely because of their deep commitment to Israel’s international standing and national security, Israel’s diplomats insist that their reasonable demands be met. Among them are a long-overdue adjustment of the salary to the rise in the cost of living, an end to a discriminatory tax policy, consideration of the dear price paid by ‘trailing’ spouses and children in terms of loss of income, career and pension, and a decent compensation for extra hours.

“It is unfortunate that the same dedicated civil servants, who receive praise wherever they are stationed in the world as representatives of Israel, are met with nothing but scorn by the Finance Ministry bureaucrats, who know little about the importance of diplomacy to national security. This is true always, but more so in a country like Israel, which is faced with an unparalleled range of challenges in the international arena.”

What should be made of this?

Their demands may be reasonable, but when compared to the other labor issues present on an international stage(the human rights violating kind), their plight comes off as hyperbolic and out of touch with the reality. Diplomats storming away from negotiations and striking, for lack of a more diplomatic solution, seems rather counterintuitive. Perhaps so much that it borders humor. However, it would be too easy to say that this apparent lack of diplomacy is indicative of just the reason they haven’t had wages adjusted to begin with.  If diplomacy is so important, why are they putting their own needs before it? How can the state afford to have its diplomats just sit around? What would happen if nuclear submarine crews did the same? Such a question is unfair to ask as either’s means to maintain the wellbeing of a country take very different forms, but meet at the same ends. 

So what do we have to work with in terms of making sense of this issue from another perspective?

There is an acute lack of input from the other side of the table. Kind of makes sense considering they are not in charge of addressing foreign audiences. The Ministry of Finance has nothing on its website regarding the event nor have they issued statements. It’s possible they think the situation speaks for itself, more likely that it may not even occur that the issue is a internal  The U.S. State Department isn’t commenting further than saying it’s “an internal issue”. Hmm, when the entirety of one’s formal overseas representation goes on strike, it seems slightly more than internal. However, it’s not like general public would be that preoccupied if the State Department, Ministry of Finance, or Foreign Ministry were to explain their differing views of the importance of soft power, what that means for hard power, and how that should be reflected in the budget. Thus, the issue remains primarily internal.

So how do those differing opinions play out in Israel?

 The intransigence of the Finance Ministry emphasizes Israel’s historic disregard for the international community’s opinions, and its skepticism of the importance of diplomacy. The fact that the diplomats even need a union suggests a certain attitude to the importance placed on their role and compensation.

At the issue’s root is probably the diplomats struggle to demonstrate the tangible effects their commitment to “Israel’s international standing and security.” Speculating on the domestic viewpoint, I imagine the opposition questions their efficacy when Israel has had more UN resolutions passed against it than any other state, and missile are easier to shoot down than talk down. Additionally, the friction between Bibi and Barak highlight that U.S.-Israel relationship is due to no diplomatic feat, but instead a host of other factors both soft and hard power in nature, but neither directly attributable to diplomatic efforts.

Israeli diplomats are not alone in this challenge, even the U.S. State department has struggled to show the justification for the funding for some of its various programs. I’m all for wise spending, and programs structured with a better methodology that allows valid feedback, but not everyone seems interested or capable of appreciating the complexities soft power. 

More than creating an inconvenience and perhaps pressure from the diaspora community, the strike is a bold move to demonstrate to P.D. deaf bureaucrats that those who are not at the at the table, are on it.  While exceptions are made for security, the more tangible results will be seen in the UN. Admittedly, international criticism is not something Israel is particularly known for being sensitive to. Hopefully the diplomats’ lesson is not lost on the “Finance Ministry bureaucrats, who know little about the importance of diplomacy to national security.”

While the state is no longer the only voice in the public diplomacy arena, and thus the effect of its voice is harder to trace over the cacophony, but by no means does it justify staying quiet…unless you’re on strike of course.



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