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Attorney general urges High Court to nix ministers’ firing of Postal Co. chairperson

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara told the High Court of Justice Tuesday that a decision by two government ministers to dismiss the head of the Israel Postal Company “suffers from fundamental flaws” and should be voided.

Baharav-Miara’s opposition to the ministers’ move is the latest in a series of high-profile and highly consequential cases in which she has come out against key government policies, some of which would radically change Israel’s legal and judicial systems, leading to increasing calls from within the coalition urging her dismissal.

The attorney general gave her response to a petition filed against the decision by Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi and Regional Cooperation Minister David Amsalem to remove Israel Postal Company chairman of the board Mishael Vaknin from his post. Karhi and Amsalem, both of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, said in July that they were firing Vaknin because “he is not fulfilling his duties properly.”

Vaknin’s removal in July 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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Vaknin petitioned against the decision and Baharav-Miara told the ministers last month that she would not represent them in court in the case.

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

In her response to the petition, Baharav-Miara wrote that Karhi had only been in office for three months when he informed Vaknin of his dismissal and that at the time, “the minister did not have a factual basis” to exercise the authority to fire him.

Such authority requires consultation with the Government Companies Authority — which was not done, she said, and must be exercised “very carefully, taking into account the weighty public interest in preserving the independence of the work of the government company’s board of directors.”

Baharav-Miara noted that the ministerial power to remove a director has not previously been used in the fifty years since that power was passed into law. The Government Companies Law, she said, “includes arrangements whose purpose is to create a buffer between the political echelon and the company, and to prevent government involvement in the day-to-day business activities of the company.”

Firing a director is only for “the most extraordinary incidents” in which a “high level of failure” was displayed by the ousted official, she said. Though conceding that the Postal Company had seen a drop in its level of service, including the closure of post offices without providing alternative solutions, she pointed out that Vaknin was acting according to a recovery plan that the government itself had approved.

Furthermore, there were flaws in the hearing procedure for Vaknin, the attorney general said, which “together with the other flaws, justify the cancellation of the decision” to fire him.

Minister David Amsalem arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on May 7, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Kan public broadcaster reported that last Thursday, Amsalem and Karhi asked the High Court to rule that Baharav-Miara’s position not be included in the petition hearings, claiming that she is not directly involved in the dispute. Meanwhile, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich sent a letter to the attorney general telling her he fully supports his fellow ministers, Kan reported.

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

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi speaks at the Knesset on January 30, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In another clash this week with a government minister, Baharav-Miara told the court Monday that Justice Minister Yariv Levin was obliged to convene the Judicial Selection Committee, which picks the country’s judges.

Baharav-Miara stated her position in her office’s filing with the High Court of Justice in response to petitions demanding Levin assemble the committee, which he has so far refused to do owing to his desire to first change the panel’s composition in order to give the government control over judicial appointments.