07/09/2013, 00.00
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Israeli Foreign Ministry's three-month-old strike leaves pilgrims to the Holy Land without visas

Indonesian nuns and Chinese Catholics cannot get visas. International athletes and Jewish pilgrims are blocked. For the restructured Foreign Affairs Ministry, which employs 1,200 people, the new Ministry of Foreign Relations is a "needless and wasteful" creation. To accommodate some new allies, Netanyahu strips some functions form Foreign Affairs.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) - In its third month, the strike at Israel's Foreign Ministry (MOFA) is affecting many pilgrims to the Holy Land. Some Indonesian nuns and several Chinese Catholics have thus not been able to get a visa from an Israeli embassy or consulate.

Pilgrims are not alone in this quandary. Dozens of athletes and staff coming for the Maccabean Games, a two-week international sporting event set to start on 18 July, have been unable to receive a visa to enter the country, including those from at least 14 countries: Armenia, Aruba, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Nicaragua, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.

Even Diaspora Jews who planned to make Aliyah (return to the land of Israel) are still waiting for Israeli embassies to reopen.

The crisis began more than three months ago when diplomats demanded higher salaries (which can be as low as US$ 2,300 a month after 15 years of service) as well as compensation for their spouses who cannot find work abroad.

The Treasury rejected the demands of the union representing Ministry staff, a situation that was compounded by controversial departmental restructuring following January's elections that saw the creation of a Ministry of Foreign Relations alongside the existing Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In order to "accommodate" its new political allies, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also deputised the new Justice Minister, Tzipi Livni, as Israel's chief negotiator with the Palestinians, and rewarded Naftali Bennett with control of separate new government bodies in charge of relations with the Jewish Diaspora and hasbara. These, too, were snatched from Foreign Affairs.

In reaction, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which employs more than 1,200 people, said the new Ministry of Foreign Relations was a "needless and wasteful" creation.

In view of the situation, MOFA employees went on full strike, stopped issuing visas and reports, or help outbound Israeli leaders or foreign leaders coming to Israel.

Israel's military responded saying that the strike is jeopardising Israel's security and that of Israelis abroad.

For its part, the Treasury took a hard line, and ordered a host of economic sanctions against the striking diplomats, instructing that their pay be further cut.

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