Israel closes embassies around the world as diplomats strike


Israeli diplomats launched an unprecedented strike on Sunday, forcing the complete closure of embassies around the world as they escalated a dispute over pay, officials said.

The industrial action has already threatened to postpone a visit by Pope Francis to Israel planned for May – one of 25 trips by foreign officials affected by a work slowdown the diplomats began on March 5 when wage talks broke down.

By escalating the action to a full strike – the first by the diplomatic corps since the country's establishment in 1948 – the diplomats will close all of Israel's 102 missions abroad, paralyzing most diplomatic work with other countries and the United Nations.

[Related: Israel’s diplomatic corp labor strike continues]

“We are completely shutting down the (foreign ministry) office and missions abroad. This is the first time ever,” ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said.

Another ministry official told Reuters: “As of now, the foreign ministry doesn't exist. It's not possible even to submit complaints”.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called the strike “irresponsible” and “a wretched decision and a display of a loss of control on union's part.”

“We shall do whatever possible to minimize the damage to the country and its citizens,” Lieberman said.

Diplomats said the strike – involving some 1,200 foreign service employees – was open-ended and had been called after the Treasury had failed to present any acceptable proposals.

They are demanding an increase in monthly salaries, which they put at 6,000-9,000 shekels ($1,700-$2,600), and want compensation for spouses forced to quit jobs due to foreign postings. They say about a third of their number has quit in the past 15 years due to poor wages.

Yacov Livne, spokesman for the diplomats' union, said: “the Treasury is determined to destroy the foreign ministry and Israeli diplomacy.”

Editing by Robin Pomeroy