High Court skeptical of government’s firing of postal company chairman

Justice Isaac Amit says service’s director should only be fired in ‘catastrophic’ circumstances; critics say Mishael Vaknin’s dismissal in July was motivated by politics

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Former chairman of the Israel Postal Company Mishael Vaknin at a hearing in the High Court of Justice for petitions against his dismissal, September 7, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Former chairman of the Israel Postal Company Mishael Vaknin at a hearing in the High Court of Justice for petitions against his dismissal, September 7, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Supreme Court Justice Isaac Amit expressed heavy skepticism over the government’s firing in July of Israel Postal Company Chairman Mishael Vaknin during a court hearing on Thursday, saying that such a decision should only be considered in “catastrophic” circumstances.

Attorneys for Vaknin and the Israel Postal Company argued during the hearing that Vaknin was fired for political reasons, since he was appointed by the previous government’s communications minister, Yoaz Hendel.

They also argued that Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi and Regional Cooperation Minister David Amsalem, who also has responsibility for government companies like the Israel Postal Company, ousted Vaknin in order to appoint their own close associates to positions within the organization.

Karhi and Amsalem have said Vaknin was failing in his duties as head of the postal company, and that as ministers, the staffing of the senior positions in the organization is at their discretion.

Supreme Court Justices Amit, Alex Stein, and Yosef Elron presided over the Thursday hearing.

“The two sins my client made were the fact that he was appointed by the previous communications minister Yoaz Hendel and the fact that he did not agree to operate the company as a factory of ‘jobs for the boys’ in the manner in which it was [previously] brought to insolvency,” argued Attorney Giora Erdinast, who is representing Vaknin.

Erdinast said that Karhi decided he had no trust in Vaknin almost from the moment he entered office, and that the dismissal process was performed illegitimately.

“They are collapsing in one go the entire wall that was built between the government and government companies,” said the attorney, adding that the relevant clauses governing the dismissal procedure of the company chairman were “designed for extreme situations in which the chairman violated his office in an extreme manner.”

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) with Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi at the plenum hall of the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on May 1, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Amit appeared to agree with Erdinast’s argument, saying that “the law for government companies has existed for 50 years,” and the firing of Vaknin was the first such decision of its kind.

“What are we talking about? About someone who was in the job for just one year. If you use this authority either something catastrophic has had to happen or someone destroyed the postal company. That’s not the case,” Amit said.

In August, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara decided that she would not support the position of Karhi and Amsalem, and filed a submission to the court that the basis of the decision to dismiss Vaknin had been significantly flawed.

She also stated that the dismissal procedure itself had been highly problematic since the Government Companies Authority must be consulted before such an action is taken, which the ministers failed to do.

Attorney Hallel Barak, who is representing Karhi and Amsalem, sought to argue that the attorney general’s position was fundamentally flawed, and that the ministers were entitled to make such decisions.

“The attempt by the attorney general to remove the ministers’ professional discretion in my opinion ruins the ability of the ministers to make any sort of decision,” argued Barak.

Attorney Ephraim Damri, also representing the ministers, argued that the attorney general’s position had no special weight in the case.

“The position of the attorney general has no superior authority, her position is not above us all,” insisted Damri.

Vaknin’s removal in July 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.

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