Don’t let the diplomatic corps turn into a diplomatic corpse

Anyone who studied International Relations and Political Science have heard about one of the most famous quotes by the Prussian General  Carl von Clausewitz:”War is merely the continuation of policy by other means”. This immortal sentence tries to stress that when negotiations and diplomatic efforts fail, what we get is a war. You can attribute it to many wars which we all know, but I never thought that it could be attributed to a war of a different kind, the war that Israel’s Foreign Ministry, had to wage against the Finance Ministry, since the negotiations failed.

The public stereotype of the diplomat’s work includes among other things: “All the day in cocktail parties”, “Having fun overseas while financed by taxpayer” , “earning tens of thousands of NIS per month”. As someone who was involved in diplomacy and know quite a few of Israel’s diplomats, I can testify that the reality is completely different. Maybe it’s better to emphasise first of all that in terms of salary, a young diplomat starts with a monthly salary of 5000 NIS, yes, this is what the state of Israel willing to invest in people who defend the country. These are people with BA & MA, with wide intellectual knowledge and foreign languages. The cadets course will always be considered prestigious , however how can you preserve the quality if these are the conditions, and can you be surprised that many of these cadets retire from the ministry within 10 years?

Anyone who joins the Foreign Ministry do it because of ideals and love of the country, not because he or she want to be rich. But don’t the diplomats deserve a little bit more than the meagre salary they are paid? Don’t they deserve to live in dignity? Let’s assume that the same diplomat has 10 years of service and reached a ‘huge’ salary of 8000 NIS, which is also ridiculous compared to other countries in the world. It is therefore not a surprise that many vacancies are unmanned, because the diplomats can’t afford to break even, especially when they are married and having kids. The diplomat’s partner has to stop his career and to move from one country to another and he has no job guarantee. Many diplomats are forced to use their savings and to borrow money from family members just to survive while abroad representing their country. Does it make any sense?

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As for the life quality and the cocktails, the diplomats don’t work like most people from 9 till 17, but work 7 days a week and crazy hours. They need to meet with different organisations, foreign diplomats, politicians and public figures – all of this for the country that doesn’t appreciate them and not rewarding them accordingly. The work of the diplomat includes analysis of body language and verbal analysis of conversations. Only someone who’ve been in diplomatic meetings can understand the difference and meaning between words which sounds to most of the public the same, but in the diplomatic world they can be interpreted completely different and have crucial consequences. It can be an official meeting at the embassy or gala dinner that the diplomat can extract important information that will help decision makers in Israel. If the diplomat gets a cocktail, why shouldn’t we wish him or her L’chaim?

The Finance Ministry needs to ask itself why the foreign ministry which has just 1000 employees, is being discriminated in comparison to the security services and the military which are the lavish spenders in Israel? Did anyone count the amount of unneeded IDF officers in Kirya? Did anyone think that it’s time to reform the age of military pension? Did anyone think that many jobs done by officers can be done by highly-skilled soldiers? There are many more questions but the most important one is why it is easy to hit the diplomats and not the generals? The diplomats are doing essential work in defending the state of Israel. Their work is as important as the work of IDF and maybe even more important because it can lead to political agreements and preserving warm relations with countries around the world.

The negotiations with the Palestinians are due to finish soon and if it will be finished without an agreement, we are expected to see an escalation in the delegitimisation campaign against Israel, especially in Europe. Who will create the alliances and relations with the decision makers to maintain support for Israel? Who will fight the different boycott attempts? Who will work tirelessly in the different parliaments and the EU institutions? Who will coordinate political visits to Israel? Head of Euorpean Desk at IDF intelligence unit?

It is time to change the priorities in Israel. We live in the 21st century and it’s essential to cut back significantly the military budget and at the same time to give the budget that foreign ministry needs. This budget is needed for normal salaries for diplomats, for supporting their partners and for diplomatic activities which can’t be done without money. If the decision makers at Finance Ministry like metaphors, I would tell them that it’s not even the cost of a jet fighter, much less than that. Give the diplomats the financial support they need. Don’t let the diplomatic corps turn into a diplomatic corpse.

About the Author
Tal Ofer is a former parliamentary researcher and now Deputy at the Board of Deputies of British Jews. He actively fights antisemitism and delegitimisation of Israel. In Summer 2014 he masterminded a campaign to target Tricycle Theater donors, which led to reverse of boycott of UK Jewish Film Festival.