Row over kosher-only policy at Israeli ministry

Jerusalem’s trendy Emek Refaim street. Foreign Ministry officials can host dignitaries only at kosher restaurants

Jerusalem’s trendy Emek Refaim street. Foreign Ministry officials can host dignitaries only at kosher restaurants

An internal regulation saying that Israeli diplomats hosting foreign visitors must eat with them only in kosher restaurants has provoked a protest by Tel Aviv restaurateurs.

Israeli government agencies are mandated by law to operate only kosher catering facilities.

As a matter of tradition, Israeli ministers will eat only kosher at official meals, in Israel and abroad, even if they do not keep kosher at home.

At the Foreign Ministry, this extends to a regulation forbidding its employees to entertain visiting dignitaries at restaurants that serve non-kosher food.

Employees at the ministry and secular politicians have in the past objected to this regulation to no avail. Last week, a group of leading chefs and restaurant owners in Tel Aviv wrote to the ministry, claiming that the regulation denies them business.

“Like any other man-made rule, this is also adaptable,” says one veteran diplomat. “There are different ways of circumventing the rule but, in principle, if an employee tries to expense the ministry for a work meeting with foreign diplomats or visitors in a recognisably non-kosher restaurant, he is going to find it difficult to be reimbursed.”

A Foreign Ministry spokesman said: “there are no plans to change the rules on kosher restaurants.”

Last updated: 4:47pm, December 17 2009