Our diplomats deserve more
Op-ed: Criminal neglect leaves diplomats with minimal resources to promote Israel
It is no longer a secret that Israeli diplomats are at the forefront of the struggle to preserve the state's national strength. As we saw on WikiLeaks as well, Foreign Ministry officials work day and night on curbing Iran's nuclear program, fighting Israel's de-legitimization, averting more flotillas to Gaza and improving Israel's image abroad.
During the recent strike, the public had been exposed more than ever before to other activities undertaken by the Ministry, such as opening up new export markets, bringing more tourists, assisting Israelis in distress worldwide, and offering intensive help to security agencies on issues that are better left unmentioned.
It is doubtful whether there is another state like Israel, where external support is so vital for physical survival. We could assume that this fact would prompt the earmarking of great resources to the Foreign Ministry. However, in practice the Ministry's budget constitutes less than 1% of the state budget, while the defense budget is immensely greater.
In manpower terms too, it is a small Ministry. A few hundred employees in Israel and abroad undertake an endless list of vital tasks at some 100 missions worldwide. In the absence of a proper budget, these people alone bear the great burden of defending the state in the international theater.
It is no wonder then that the Foreign Ministry cadets' course, which takes in 30 out of 3,000 candidates, is considered the pilots' course of the public service. We could assume that the state would invest in this high-quality human capital after recruiting it, yet this isn't the case.
According to Treasury data, the gap between Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry wages stands at 50%. The wage gap in respect to the Mossad and Shin Bet is much greater, while these people perform the exact same work as their Foreign Ministry colleagues. These numbers are known at this time and are undisputed. Yet in reality the situation is worse.
An employee with a Master's degree who joins the Foreign Ministry through the cadets' course receives minimum wage for the first five years on the job. After 20 years in the Foreign Service, this employee turns into the family's sole breadwinner; as result of the overseas missions the spouse is left without a career or an income. Even at that point, the salary only reaches half of what it is at the Defense Ministry, IDF, Mossad, or the Prosecutor's Office.
Foreign Ministry officials also do not enjoy a worthy early retirement option. After finally retiring, following 35 years of service, such officials would only be left with one pension for them and their spouse.
The accumulated implication of this criminal neglect led to a situation whereby Israeli diplomats do not possess the minimal resources needed to promote the state's foreign relations. As result of this catastrophic state of affairs, Foreign Ministry officials for the first time in their history embarked on a public struggle that includes partial suspension of their work.
The cancelation of the important visit by Russian President Medvedev should concern the Israeli public much less than the methodical destruction of Israel's Foreign Service, caused by the reckless policy of starvation adopted towards Israeli diplomacy. We are all currently paying the price of the ignorance and superficiality of Treasury officials who tend to give money only to those who threaten and scream.
This time too, Foreign Ministry workers are at the forefront of the struggle on behalf of the state. Hence, in recent days we saw Knesset members and public figures enlisting for the cause and calling for linking Foreign Ministry wages to Defense Ministry salaries. It would do well for Prime Minister Netanyahu to also join this struggle; after all, he is well aware of the Foreign Ministry's immense contribution to Israel's national strength.
Yaakov Livne heads the Foreign Ministry's Eurasian Department, served as embassy spokesman in Moscow and advisor at the Berlin embassy, and currently serves as the Foreign Ministry's employee unions' spokesman
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