The appointment of Alon Pinkas to head the American Jewish Congress was put on hold this week pending resolution in Jerusalem of accusations that the former high-profile Israeli diplomat violated his country’s civil-service regulations.
The AJCongress decision comes after the Israeli press reported that Civil Service Commissioner Shmuel Hollander was considering criminal proceedings against Pinkas for violating a 1969 law that bars diplomats posted abroad from taking a new job in the country where they served for two years after leaving their civil-service post. Hollander said that Pinkas, who recently completed a three-year stint at the Israeli Consulate in New York, could face jail time if charged.
On Wednesday, AJCongress released a statement announcing that last week’s appointment of Pinkas as its new chief executive officer was put on hold until any outstanding issues were settled.
“When Ambassador Pinkas’s contract with AJCongress was signed it was placed in escrow pending receipt of the appropriate U.S. visas enabling him to work for us here,” an AJCongress statement said. “Recognizing the work he would be doing was going to be for the Jewish people and for Israel, there was no indication of difficulty in obtaining the necessary Israeli clearances. We know that there is a ‘cooling off’ period under Israeli law that he will have to observe and we are unsure of how long this period will actually be. Alon and his family will be returning home to Israel. His contract will remain in escrow as these matters are being reviewed.”
Juda Engelmayer, an AJCongress spokesman, said that the two sides had agreed to renegotiate the agreement in December in case the situation remains stuck.
Pinkas is said to be planning to meet with Israeli officials in an attempt to iron out any problems and obtain a waiver from Hollander.
In a letter to the Foreign Ministry, Hollander said that Pinkas’s acceptance of the AJCongress job violated the two-year cooling-off period, which can only be waived with the permission of a special committee headed by a district court judge, Ha’aretz reported.
Pinkas told the media during the weekend that he wondered how the Foreign Ministry, which gave him 30 days’ notice, could prevent him from supporting himself. However, Pinkas added, he would not start his new job before studying the civil service regulations. He could not be reached for comment.
David Saranga, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, told the Forward he that believed Pinkas was planning to ask Hollander for permission to waive the requirement.
Adding to the confusion, Pinkas’s contract with the Foreign Ministry formally ended in August 2003, and he was on a month-to-month contract for the following year until his retirement this month. Lawyers are examining whether the cooling-off period began a year ago or last month.
Hollander told Ha’aretz that the regulations apply equally to professional diplomats and political appointees such as Pinkas, a former foreign policy adviser to several Labor leaders, including Shimon Peres, who tapped him for the consulate job in New York. Pinkas’s name actually had been mentioned as a candidate for Foreign Ministry director general should Peres become foreign minister.
Upon leaving his position last month, Pinkas had a falling- out with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. Pinkas sent a scathing letter to Foreign Ministry employees in which he sarcastically referred to Shalom as a “Churchillian diplomat” and detailed a series of failed objectives. Foreign Ministry officials and Shalom aides responded by slamming Pinkas’s close ties to Peres.
Saranga stressed that the Foreign Ministry was not involved in the civil service process, brushing aside speculation that it was trying to retaliate against Pinkas because of his recent spat with Shalom.
A source close to the issue speculated that Israeli officials reacted angrily to Pinkas’s decision because he did not brief them in advance.
Several Jewish communal leaders expressed unease at the appointment, including the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman. The strongest criticism appeared to come from Seymour Reich, a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
“The AJCongress ought to back off,” Reich said, warning that it would hurt efforts to dispel the perception of Israeli control over American Jewish groups. “It’s wrong, it sets a bad precedent in terms of Israel-Diaspora relations and it is not a good thing for the American Jewish community.”