Special for the AJT
As of Monday, March 3, 2014, Israel’s diplomats suspended all consular services and involvement with official visits both in Israel and overseas. After a year of negotiations and a seven-month mediation process with Israel’s Finance Ministry fell through, the diplomats and employees of the Foreign Ministry were left with no choice but to halt their work.
As the fierce labor dispute in Israel’s Foreign Ministry rages on for a third week, concerned citizens across the globe and here in the Southeast have one question: why?
More than 12 years have passed since the salaries of Israeli diplomats were last adjusted, even as inflation and costs of living continually rise. Regardless of final salary and expenses, they are taxed at a painful 48 percent. These conditions make it nearly impossible for diplomats, even those in more affordable regions, to make ends meet.
The impact on families, specifically “trailing” spouses and children, is especially difficult. Forced to give up their work—and therefore, pensions—to follow their partners to postings around the world, many spouses struggle to find employment in their new communities. Diplomats are forced to pull from their already inadequate salaries to cover the costs of childcare and early childhood education for their children until the age of 3, at which point the Israeli government covers those expenses until age 18. Additionally, these families face the incalculable emotional toll of being constantly uprooted, beginning and ending relationships every few years.
Tasked with representing the State of Israel around the world, Israel’s diplomats and Foreign Service employees often face hostility and resentment as they earnestly work to promote the interests of the people of Israel at home and abroad.
Recently, Israeli diplomats in New Delhi, India, Bangkok, Thailand, and Tbilisi, Georgia have been the targets of terrorists, and just last week, large protests in front of the Embassy of Israel in Amman, Jordan, threatened the safety of those inside. Exactly 22 years ago, on March 17, 1992, a suicide bomber attacked the Embassy of Israel in Buenos Aires, Argentina, killing 29 and wounding 242 civilians.
There is no other country where, per capita, diplomats pay such a high price to represent their nation. Yet in the face of this danger, Israel’s diplomats remain deeply dedicated and resolute.
Kaylene Rudy with the Atlanta Jewish Times sat down with Israel’s highest ranking diplomats in the Southeast United States, Consul General Opher Aviran and Deputy Consul General Ron Brummer, to discuss the situation.
Consul General Aviran outlined the toll the labor dispute has already taken locally. “Last week, I was forced to decline the invitation to address the Georgia Senate and House of Representatives as they honored the special relationship between Georgia and the State of Israel. Turning down this great honor was immensely frustrating not only for me, but for the entire Consulate, as we understand the significance of this opportunity and deeply appreciate the gesture. Furthermore, the Consulate and “Israeli House,” which had no choice but to step down from their leading roles in the commemoration ceremony for Israel’s Memorial Day, Yom Hazikaron, have approached the Israeli Scouts and asked them to lead the ceremony this year.”
Addressing the broader consequences of the clash, Aviran continued, “We are especially saddened to cancel, for the first time in Israel’s 66-year history, Israel’s Independence Day celebrations around the world. Here in Atlanta, we so looked forward to bringing one of Israel’s greatest cultural ambassadors, Achinoam Nini, for a special concert. Other international commitments affected include the probable cancellations of the Pope’s visit to Israel in May and President Shimon Peres’ official visit to China.”
Deputy Consul General Brummer addressed the effect of the Finance Ministry’s inflexibility on more recent graduates of the diplomatic training program, such as himself. “We are proud to be diplomats. It is a very selective career path—only 1/100 are chosen for these positions. However, after only five years, nine of the 35 cadets in my class have left the Ministry due to the financial and emotional costs.”
Though this is the most interesting and exciting work I have ever done,” Brummer added, “My colleagues and I can earn two to three times our current salaries in the private sector. Following this posting [at the Consulate General of Israel to the Southeast], I will probably have to leave the Foreign Ministry because my family simply cannot afford to continue living with these circumstances.”
Now, more than ever, the State of Israel needs support. Israel’s diplomats are the first line of defense against real threats, including a nuclear Iran, and the best representatives of the innovative prowess the nation has to offer. The time is now to act to save Israel’s foreign service.
For more information about this story and how to support your local Israeli Embassy and Consulate office contact Kaylene Rudy at 404-883-2130 x 100