Attorney general refuses to defend ministers’ firing of Israel Postal chairperson

Baharav-Miara says Likud’s Karhi, Amsalem may obtain private counsel in petition against dismissal, a move she has said presents significant legal difficulties

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara arrives to attend the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, July 9, 2023. (Gil Cohen-Magen/Pool Photo via AP)
Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara arrives to attend the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, July 9, 2023. (Gil Cohen-Magen/Pool Photo via AP)

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara has told Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi and Regional Cooperation Minister David Amsalem that she will not represent them in High Court of Justice petitions against their dismissal of the head of the Israel Postal Company, after telling them the move presents significant legal difficulties.

Baharav-Miara added in a statement from her office Tuesday that the Likud ministers could be represented by private lawyers of their choosing.

In the statement, her office said that it was her legal position that the decision to remove Israel Postal Company chair Mishael Vaknin from his post on the grounds cited by the ministers that “he is not fulfilling his duties properly” was significantly flawed.

She said there was a lack of “consistency between the ministers’ claims against the chairman of the board of directors and the factual basis on which they sought to base their decision.”

Vaknin’s termination process was also flawed, she said.

In response to the decision, Karhi issued a statement that said the attorney general “will continue to represent those who severely damaged the postal services for the periphery and the disadvantaged populations, and we will continue to faithfully represent the citizens of Israel.”

Delivery trucks of the Israel Postal Company. (Courtesy)

“We will work to appoint a worthy chairman of the board, who will correct the resounding failure of not developing growth engines and neglecting service to the public,” he charged.

Baharav-Miara’s step is part of an ongoing rift between the justice system and the government, many of whose members have advocated for firing the attorney general amid a fervent effort by the hardline coalition to overhaul the judiciary and curb its powers.

File: Postal Service Chairman Mishael Vaknin at a Knesset hearing. (Screenshot from the Knesset Channel)

Vaknin’s removal last month as chair of the Israel Postal Company drew intense criticism from Government Companies Authority director Michal Rosenbaum, and was also opposed by some in the Justice Ministry.

Rosenbaum and the Postal Company — which is in the process of a privatization effort — have contended that Vaknin’s dismissal was politically motivated, to allow Karhi and Amsalem to appoint loyalists to the service’s board of directors.

The High Court of Justice refused to issue an injunction blocking Vaknin’s dismissal, but has told the state to submit its response to the petition.

Rosenbaum has charged that Amsalem was working to make illegitimate and political appointments at dozens of government companies, leading to a showdown that has seen the minister repeatedly try to have the Government Companies Authority chief removed from office.

Amsalem made the request to Civil Service Commissioner Daniel Hershkowitz, accusing Rosenbaum of “aggressive and disrespectful” behavior and claiming that she disobeyed his orders and bullied employees.

(L) MK David Amsalem in Tel Aviv, December 8, 2022 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90) and (R) Michal Rosenbaum. (Finance Ministry)

Rosenbaum denied the allegations, and said Amsalem was trying to have her dismissed for her refusal to carry out his “illegitimate demands, especially in the realm of appointments and wages.”

Ynet reported that, due to the disagreement, most of the necessary appointments to government companies have now been frozen. There are reportedly around 300 open positions on 70 boards of directors, with some of them unable to convene and make decisions due to the lack of a quorum.

The situation has reached a point where large companies, including the Israel Electric Corporation, state-housing company Amidar and the Netivei Israel – National Transport Infrastructure Company, will not have functioning boards of directors by the end of the year, and will be unable to legally operate.

Channel 12 reported that the attorney general spoke to Karhi and Amsalem earlier this month and raised “significant” legal problems with their move. She suggested they rethink it and warned she would find it hard to defend in court.

Earlier this week, Amsalem defended his attempts to appoint personal acquaintances to senior positions in government companies, saying he prefers to tap candidates he knows well.

“That is my job, due to my authority to appoint directors,” he said. “I put forward people that I know and hold in esteem” — admitting that also includes those who are within his social circles.

Amsalem is a Likud lawmaker and an ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He also serves as a minister in the Justice Ministry and as the minister in charge of liaising between the government and the Knesset.

The Government Companies Authority was traditionally part of the Finance Ministry, but Amsalem insisted it be moved under his control as part of the agreement he made with Netanyahu to join the cabinet.

Last month, Amsalem, who has a history of incendiary and offensive remarks, declared that Baharav-Miara was “the most dangerous person” in Israel and a clear threat to democracy, days after he called for her ouster.

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