Israeli Embassies on Strike over Taxes

Israeli diplomats began an open-ended strike on Wednesday, closing more than 100 embassies and consulates around the world in a protest over working conditions.

The stoppage follows a long-running dispute between diplomatic staff and the finance ministry, which the envoys say has unilaterally changed its rules on reimbursing expenses for entertaining official guests.

“We are forced to close the Israeli representations in the world as of today (October 30),” the foreign ministry staff union said in a statement. “No services will be provided to the public and admission to delegations will not be allowed.”

Israel’s ambassador to Belgium, Emmanuel Nachshon, said the row was over a treasury demand that receipts be provided with expense claims for home entertaining.

“Our embassy is closed like the rest of the Israeli embassies in the world,” he told Israeli public radio. “When you host somebody in your home, when you hold a dinner or other activity, it’s not always possible to provide a receipt for everything,” he said. 

Israeli diplomats get lump-sum expense stipends meant to cover a range of personal and official expenses. The Finance Ministry now says it wants the diplomats to submit individual receipts for those expenses and pay sales tax on the personal ones. The taxes would be applied retroactively, which would force the diplomats to pay back from previous years. Sales tax in Israel, which is known as a valued-added tax, or VAT, is currently 17 percent.

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