Israeli foreign ministry employees have intensified a long-running dispute over pay and conditions by declaring a full-scale strike at home and at diplomatic missions around the world.
“The ministry in Jerusalem will remain closed and Israel’s missions abroad will not open as of Monday morning, March 24,” the ministry’s website said.
Israel media said the open-ended walkout was the first by diplomats in the country’s history.
The latest step ratcheted up industrial action that has been in place since wage talks on March 4.
The website said that since then diplomats have not dealt “with foreign representatives … official visits of any kind, either in Israel or overseas,” nor issued visas or provided consular services.
Officials have said that the strike could jeopardize Pope Francis’s first trip to the Holy Land, set for May.
The Vatican said earlier this month that there were no plans to cancel the trip but confirmed that the dispute was “likely to cause complications in preparing for the trip”.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Israeli Foreign Ministry employee Galit Baram said: “We are fighting for the future of Israel’s foreign service, in a country that very much needs it in the diplomatic and international arena.
“There’s been a worrying phenomenon of young diplomats leaving the ministry within a decade or so, they go on and do very well in the private sector. It is a shame for Israel.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who media said would be locked out of his office during the strike, criticized the stoppage.
“It is a miserable decision that points to loss of control,” he said in a statement. “It has no benefit and only causes more damage to the ministry’s workers.
“We will do everything necessary to minimize the damage caused to the country and its citizens.”
The Jerusalem Post came out firmly in support of the strikers.
“The plight of our foreign service personnel has become increasingly unbearable,” its web edition said.
“For over a decade now, the salaries of these dedicated people have not been adjusted in the respective countries in which they serve to compensate for inflation.”
(Al Jazeera and agencies – www.aljazeera.com)