Lapid said he would hire a private travel firm for future overseas visits

Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s next two state visits will be coordinated by a private company for the first time in Israel’s history, according to a report on Wednesday.

Lapid’s planned visits next month to Berlin and New York, where he will deliver a speech at the United Nations General Assembly, will be organized by Amsalem Tours, the Ynet news site said.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is responsible for organizing the Prime Minister’s engagements abroad. However, due to an ongoing salary dispute between Foreign Ministry employees and the government that has included threats of a strike, the Prime Minister’s Office has sought an alternative.

Amsalem Tours, which focuses on business travel, is headquartered in the northern city of Tiberias but operates branches throughout the country, as well as an overseas branch.

The company is said to be tasked with providing hotels and cars for the prime minister and his team, as well as organizing various events that Lapid, who is also foreign minister, is scheduled to attend.

An unnamed government source told Ynet that Lapid “has cut himself off from the Foreign Ministry and its employees.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, right, and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speak to the media after their talks, in Ankara, Turkey, June 23, 2022. (AP/Burhan Ozbilici)

“In practice, he has cut off all contact with the ministry and all preparations for the visits have fallen on the National Security Council, which now has to deal with political issues that go beyond its role,” the official said.

The labor union representing Foreign Ministry employees criticized the move, accusing Lapid of hiring “diplomatic contract workers” in an attempt to sidestep the negotiations.

“All this [comes] at a sensitive time that calls for diplomatic activities in world capitals to seek support for Israeli policies regarding Iran,” the statement said.

The union called on the government to avoid “wasting public resources and to sit down with the employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to resolve the crisis”.

Illustrated: A general view of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters, September 21, 2016. (AP/Jason DeCrow)

An unnamed government source quoted in the report said: “The prime minister’s visits to Berlin and the UN are of the utmost importance to Israel’s national security and they will continue as planned.”

Last week, union officials had threatened to block Lapid’s visit to Germany and the US over the protracted pay dispute.

Some consular services have even been left without passports after ministry staff refused to send refills to overseas representatives due to the dispute.

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