Former ambassadors to Egypt urge PM not to tap Likud minister as envoy

In 3rd public appeal to government in a week, ex-envoys say Ayoub Kara should not be given sensitive post over professional diplomat Amira Oron

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) with former communications minister Ayoub Kara at a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset, on May 7, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) with former communications minister Ayoub Kara at a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset, on May 7, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Nine former Israeli ambassadors to Egypt wrote a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, urging him to refrain from appointing a former Likud lawmaker, who has a history of diplomatic fumbles, as ambassador to Egypt instead of the Foreign Ministry’s pick of a veteran diplomat, Hebrew-language media reported.

It was the third time in a week that diplomatic staff made a public appeal to the government to pick Amira Oron, a professional diplomat who last fall was tapped to be the first woman appointed to be the ambassador in Cairo, over Communications Minister Ayoub Kara.

On June 4, Channel 13 news reported that Netanyahu was considering appointing Kara for the post.

Kara, 64, a lawyer and Druze politician from the Galilee town of Daliat el-Carmel, has been a staunch supporter of the premier, but failed to win a high enough spot on the party’s slate in the April 9 elections to enter the current Knesset.

The decision of whom to appoint is ultimately up to Foreign Minister Israel Katz, another key Netanyahu ally. Netanyahu had served as foreign minister for the last four years but in February named Katz to the post.

Oron, who was expected to take over the ambassadorship in Cairo this summer, previously served in the Egyptian capital and headed the Foreign Ministry’s Egypt division.

Kara has no diplomatic experience, but has been active in efforts to improve Israel’s relationship with some communities in Middle Eastern Arab countries.

Amira Oron. (Channel 10 screenshot)

In their letter, the former envoys noted Oron’s “extensive experience in Middle East affairs.”

“In addition to her fluency in Arabic, [Oron] has served in the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, managed the Egypt division and represented Israel in [Turkish capital] Ankara,” the letter read. “The status of our embassy in Egypt is dear to us, and we hope you will accept our request.”

The signatories are Yaakov Amitai, Itzhak Levanon, Shalom Cohen, Eli Shaked, Gideon Ben-Ami, Zvi Mazel, David Sultan, Efraim Dofak and Shimon Shamir — who between them held the sensitive post consecutively from 1988 to 2014. They are all the living former Israeli envoys to Egypt except Haim Koren, who served in the post before current ambassador David Govrin.

Oron was chosen by the committee in October, but the government has not yet convened to approve the appointment. Govrin is slated to end his term as ambassador in the coming months.

Mazel told Army Radio on Wednesday that he didn’t know the reason for the delay in approving Oron’s appointment.

“If months have passed since [she was nominated], something is up,” he said.

Last Friday, Foreign Ministry staffers sent a letter to Foreign Minister Israel Katz urging him to push on behalf of Oron, the Haaretz daily reported.

According to the report, ministry staff are wary of speaking up publicly about Kara, as they fear repercussions, but many see his candidacy as a “slap in the face” to staffers.

Communications Minister Ayoub Kara at a press conference in the northern city of Safed, July 10, 2018. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Two days earlier, a group of more than a dozen former ambassadors called on the government to quickly approve Oron’s appointment.

“A worthy professional appointment to the sensitive position in Egypt is far more important than a political arrangement,” they wrote. “The representation of the State of Israel is always a unique, delicate and complex task, especially in such an important country as Egypt, whose relations are a cornerstone for Israel in the Middle East. And the diplomat who has already been appointed will represent the government and the state in the most professional manner.”

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has also been asked to determine if Netanyahu’s caretaker government can make political diplomatic appointments.

Over the years, Kara has been active in interfaith activities and in improving Israeli relations with many countries, including Turkey and Austria, as well as with Druze communities in Lebanon and Syria and Iraqi Kurds.

However, he has also been involved in a series of sometimes bizarre diplomatic snafus.

Last year he was detained at the Dubai airport and missed his flight after apparently failing to heed instructions from airport officials.

In 2017, Morocco issued a rare official complaint to Israel after Kara posed for a picture with the prime minister of the breakaway Sahrawi Republic of southern Morocco.

In November 2016, Kara posted to his Facebook page details of a security-related incident involving the Jewish state, all elements of which are still under a gag order. The post was quickly taken down, but not before journalists and others saw the information.

A month earlier, Kara drew condemnation from the Foreign Ministry when, during a visit to Italy, he suggested that powerful earthquakes in that country were divine retribution for anti-Israel actions in the United Nations.

A staunch Netanyahu loyalist, he nonetheless lost the prime minister’s backing before the Likud party primaries in February, for reasons that remain unclear.

Stuart Winer contributed to this report.

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