The impact of the Israeli diplomats’ strike on British tourists and businesspeople mounted this week as consular services in the UK and around the world remained closed, writes Justin Cohen.
With no end in sight of a dispute over pay that is now into a third week, the London embassy claimed that each day up to 40 people have been unable to get a visa or other documents to travel to the Jewish state, while the country is losing revenue from potential visitors.
Last Thursday, more than 70 people descended on the London embassy after it was granted special dispensation to open the consular section for just one hour.
Among those queuing was a mother-of-one who needed to renew her passport and had been unable to travel to Israel to see her father, who had been on a life-support machine since shortly after the strike began. The Israel-born north Londoner told the Jewish News: “It’s an emergency and I can’t get there. He’s in a lot of pain and I should be with him. I think in this day and age it’s a privilege to have a good job and it’s not right they’re striking.”
Some holidaymakers travelled for hours to London to be outside the embassy, while the brief window gave some in the queue a last-ditch chance to attend Israel for scheduled business meetings.
“My tickets and hotels are booked,” said one lady who works for a hi-tech company with offices in the country. “I appreciate you need a have a stance and a pay hike, and sometimes strikes are necessary. But I think there should be a way to make a statement without shutting down completely the consular section. We had the tube strikes and there was still a way to have some service. This is the only point of contact to get to the country.”
The embassy said: “Every day we have 30 to 40 people who can’t travel. They are unable to get refunds. We have students who can’t attend courses, business travellers who can’t conduct their businesses and families who can’t attend barmitzvahs or weddings.”
Meanwhile, UK-based Israel organisations have signed a letter urging Netanyahu to “use all his efforts” to ensure Israel’s diplomats can resume their full duties. Signatories stressed the importance of the work carried out by Israel’s embassy in a country that is a particularly “important arena for Israel” – as its second largest trading partner and a media hub.
“The tireless work of Israel’s diplomats is absolutely crucial to protecting and advancing the cause of Israel,” said the letter, which is also backed by 11 organisations and individuals, including WIZO UK and Habonim Dror UK.
It added: “Without wishing to become involved in internal labour disputes, we consider it important you know what vital work Israel’s representatives are doing. We urge you to use all your efforts to ensure this work can continue.” However, the Jewish Leadership Council and JNF UK were among several organisations that declined to sign – opting to stay out of an internal Israeli dispute.
ZF chairman Paul Charney said it was “a real shame” other major organisations failed to sign such a letter at a time when the “delegitimisation campaign poses an increasing threat not just to Israel but to the diaspora”.
He said: “All of these organisations state they support Israel, and many argue they should still be free to critique the actions of the Israeli government – backing this letter would give them the perfect opportunity to do both.”
While not wishing to take sides, he said the fact diplomats were “struggling to make ends meet” indicated “something has gone awry”.
The JLC’s Simon Johnson said: “While we absolutely endorse the fantastic work of the embassy, I felt that for us to put our name to the letter would have been to intervene in an internal Israeli government industrial dispute.”