Israel’s senior envoy here has embarked on a decidedly undiplomatic path in his efforts to keep his job. Shmuel Sisso, who was appointed Israel’s consul general in New York three years ago, is suing his own government in a bid to remain in New York.
The Morocco native, who was appointed by former Foreign Minister David Levy, learned last week through press reports that he was one of 11 envoys to be replaced by Prime Minister Ehud Barak as part of a post-Levy shakeup of the foreign diplomatic corps.
But Sisso, a Hebrew University-trained attorney, has retained two Israeli lawyers to block the transfer, claiming he had a verbal commitment from Levy for another year on the job. Levy resigned this month in disagreement with Barak over the Israel-Palestinian peace process. Barak is now serving as de facto foreign minister.
Sisso could not be reached for comment.
He told the Israeli newspaper Maariv that he has already rented his New York apartment and also has not had an opportunity to look for a job. He added that it was difficult to move so quickly, citing problems such as school registration for his children for next year’s term.
Sisso told Maariv he believed the verbal promise from Levy has legal meaning and wondered if Barak knew of the alleged extension before he appointed Alon Pinchas, a former Levy adviser, as his successor.
Pinchas has close ties to Barak and former Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
The appointment of a confidante of the prime minister to one of the most important diplomatic posts in America is seen by some observers as an affront to David Ivry, Israel’s ambassador to Washington. While Ivry is considered valuable to Israel because of his close ties to the Pentagon and the defense industry, Barak’s posting of Pinchas in New York may make him, and not Ivry, the most visible Israeli spokesman in the United States.
That situation would be analogous to the appointment of Dore Gold as UN ambassador by the former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his close friend. Gold all but eclipsed U.S. Ambassador Eliahu Ben Elissar, who died Saturday. (See obituary on page 34.)
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said that while the decision on Israel’s representative in New York was solely up to the Foreign Ministry and not local Jewish leaders, he took issue with the manner in which Sisso was fired.
"It’s a slap in the face to public service," said Foxman. "When someone goes abroad and changes their life and makes serious decisions about their family and children, there has to be a better way of notifying someone. After all, you want the best people to serve."
Foxman said Sisso had done his job well "at a very difficult time when it wasn’t always clear what Israel’s position was. And at a time when the community was somewhat fractured, he reached out and was available and articulate. The community feels comfortable with him."
Phil Baum, the director of the American Jewish Congress, said the situation was "an intramural matter. It is the prerogative of the foreign minister to appoint whomever he wishes.
"He’s done a competent job, heís a capable man. The consul general in this city is an important job. He has to interpret the views of the Israeli government. I think he’s done that."
But Baum added that the controversy was "regrettable" since it presented the appearance that "the management of [Israeli] foreign policy is in disarray."
Meanwhile, Israel’s ambassador to Poland, Yigal Antebi, who like Sisso was removed from his post following the shakeup in the diplomatic corps, has filed suit with the Israeli Supreme Court, according to published reports.
Antebi, a career diplomat, has refused to leave his post until he receives a suitable alternative job, Maariv reported Sunday.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman said "Maariv’s information did not accord with reality." Aviv Shiron told a French wire service that he did not think Antebi’s case was connected to Barak’s recall last week.