23:54 GMT14 August 2020
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    The standing of Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has waned over the years; many of its responsibilities have been taken away from it, and its budget has been significantly reduced. Now, however, things seem to be changing with MFA's new boss - Gabi Ashkenazi - vowing to restore the prestige the institution enjoyed in the past.

    It's been two months since Gabi Ashkenazi, Israel's former chief of staff, took office at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, trading his army uniform for a suit and promising to restore the institution's past glory; the organisation at one point established diplomatic ties with many countries and played a pivotal role in the signing of the peace treaties with Israel's neighbours

    Dana Benvenisti, the chairwoman for the MFA employees' committee and a person who has been working for the ministry for the past 20 years, says that the change has already been felt on the ground.

    "In his opening speech [that took place on 18 May - ed.] Ashkenazi stressed the importance of the ministry and vowed to cater to the needs of its employees; and I can clearly see that he is sticking to the goals he set for himself," she said, adding that one of the steps her new boss had taken was to meet with the institution's employees to hear out their problems and concerns.

    That, however, was a long list to tackle. 

    Sinking Ship?

    To start off, the ministry's budget, which stood at some half a billion dollars in 2018, has been cut by 15 percent, a move that resulted in the closing down of seven Israeli missions around the world.

    Depleted resources have also damaged Israel's ability to promote its interests and hampered its diplomats' efforts to explain the country's stance on topics paramount for the Jewish state, such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's sovereignty bill, aimed at applying Israeli law to parts of the West Bank, policies directed against Iran, and the fight against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, that has been challenging Israel since the early 2000s.

    The ministry's financial situation was so acute that back in July, MFA officials warned that if the situation continued to sour, Israel would see a significant drop in its economic deals and would suffer from a damaged image on the international arena.

    However, a lack of investment in the MFA has also meant a neglect of the ministry's personnel, who suffered significant pay cuts as a result of the Israeli government's policies.

    "The conditions of our diplomats, who have been serving the country in 103 missions around the world, have been damaged. They were sent there without the necessary support and the much needed backup to carry out their tasks. This could not but lead to a burnout and we could feel it in the corridors of the ministry," said Banbanishty.

    The ministry's waning influence among other Israeli institutions has also led to a sense of exhaustion. Previously, Sputnik has reported that over the years, responsibilities that once were under the jurisdiction of the MFA have been taken away from it, partially because of the desire of some elements within the nation's leadership to weaken the institution and partially because of the ruling coalition's needs and the desire to create jobs for the new ministers.

    Such was the case with the tackling of the Iranian threat and BDS, that were given away to the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, and such was the case with Jerusalem, which received its "independence" from the MFA, getting separate funds and a minister.

    "That attitude certainly harmed the motivation of the MFA's employees and you could feel it in the corridors, listening to the conversations of people," said Banbanishty, stressing that the situation was now changing.

    Turning a Page?

    According to her, Ashkenazi has already managed to allocate some funding from the Ministry of Finance that will be dedicated to the improvement of his employees' conditions. 

    At the same time, he introduced cuts and rejected offers to hire private planes for his foreign trips, saying that he preferred to maintain contact with his counterparts over the phone rather than fork out a pretty penny on trips at an unstable time, as Israel is going through an economic crisis.

    Steps have also been taken to improve Israel's position on the international arena. Foreign delegations started visiting the country, despite the fact that Israel has been considered a red zone due to the second outbreak of the pandemic; and new appointments that have been stalled for months as a result of the political instability have finally been approved.

    In the beginning of July, ten new ambassadors and one consul were appointed, including to such Muslim states as Egypt and Turkmenistan, a record number in the past several years

    Banbanishty says Israel will need this team of professionals to promote Israel's position in the world, especially in light of the outbreak of the pandemic that erupted in the end of February, that has already claimed the lives of more than 400 Israelis.

    "COVID-19 has underlined the importance of the ministry. It was the MFA that worked hard to bring back Israelis stuck in other countries, not leaving anyone behind; and it was us that played a pivotal role in the buying of a long range of medical equipment that helped Israel to tackle the rising challenge."

    However, the MFA still has a long way to go before it will be able to say that it has managed to restore its past glory.

    "[Past mistakes] caused an exhaustion and harmed the morale and the motivation of many. It is not a simple career, it is tough and challenging but I remain optimistic. We are on the right track," Banbanishty summed up.
    Iran, Benjamin Netanyahu, West Bank, Israel
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