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, paralysing most diplomatic work with other countries and the United Nations.
"We are completely shutting down the [foreign ministry] office and missions abroad. This is the first time ever," ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor said.
Another ministry official said: "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 minimise the damage to the country and its citizens," Lieberman said.
Diplomats said the strike – involving around 1 200 foreign service employees – was open-ended and had been called after the treasury failed to present any acceptable proposals.
They are demanding an increase in monthly salaries, which they put at 6 000 to 9 000 shekels (R18 800 to R28 200), and want compensation for spouses forced to quit jobs owing to foreign postings. They say about a third of their number has quit in the past 15 years because of poor wages.
Yacov Livne, spokesperson for the diplomats' union, said: "the treasury is determined to destroy the foreign ministry and Israeli diplomacy." – Reuters