Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Scab: Israeli Diplomats Hit Back at Mossad

Lindsay Beyerstein

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his visit to the U.S. on July 6. The Israeli Embassy was asked to support the Foreign Ministry workers' strike but Israel's powerful trade union Histadrut intervened in time for Netanyahu's visit.

Israeli diplomats are mad at the Mossad. Employees of the Israeli Foreign Ministry have been on partial strike since June. With the diplomats working to rule, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked the Mossad, the national security agency, to organize his visit to Greece. The Mossad agreed, effectively breaking the diplomats’ strike. Now the diplomats are getting even.

On Monday, the Foreign Ministry announced that it would no longer pay family-related expenses for members of the Mossad, such as school tuitions. In case that doesn’t get their attention, the Ministry is reportedly considering cutting off all wages to Mossad employees. You may be wondering: Can they do that? Well, let’s put it this way. Ministry employees are in charge of processing the paperwork that gets people paid. Nobody gets paid unless payroll gets done.

Mossad members have reportedly lost their diplomatic pouch privileges. Diplomatic pouches are off-limits to searches by customs officials, and therefore very useful to spooks.

On Sunday night, the diplomats union sent out a cable to all Israeli embassies instructing employees to assist Mossad employees only in matters of life and death.

Israel Foreign Ministry workers are striking for a raise. They say they get paid half as much as their colleagues in the Ministry of Defense for doing similar work. They’ve yet to walk off the job entirely, but the diplomats have found ways of making their discontent known. Suffice it to say they’ve been a little less diplomatic lately.

The employees kicked off this unprecedented strike in June by wearing jeans to work, instead of their usual suits. The diplomats also engineered a series of minor diplomatic gaffes to make their point: Someone forgot” to pick up the Estonian first lady at a restaurant in Jerusalem; a visiting Russian foreign minister got a red carpet reception, without the red carpet.

The diplomats even asked the Israeli embassy in Washington not to assist Netanyahu during his U.S. visit. At the last minute, the powerful Histadrut trade union brokered a compromise that allowed diplomats to support Netanyahu during his critical July 6 meeting with President Obama – the first meeting between the two leaders since the Freedom Flotilla massacre.

The concession didn’t lead to progress at the bargaining table. Diplomatic employees’ workers committee, which represents the strikers, says there has been no progress since their last meeting with treasury officials on July 12. That might explain why there was no compromise deal for Netanyahu’s historic visit to Greece, like the one he got for his trip to Washington. 

A high profile strike can inspire workers far afield. Maybe the Israeli diplomats have planted a seed with TSB, a pseudonynmous American diplomat who blogs about his job at The Skeptical Bureaucrat 

[American Foreign Service Association], eat your heart out,” TSB wrote, Your counterparts in the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s diplomatic union are living the dream.” TSB doesn’t expect that American diplomats will ever follow the example of their Israeli counterparts and go on strike. But you can dream.”

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times’ City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://​www​.hill​man​foun​da​tion​.org/​h​i​l​l​m​a​nblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.
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