Israel Antiquities Authority Taps Politician With Ties to Rightist NGO

Kadima’s Israel Hasson has links to Elad, which administers the City of David archaeological site in Jerusalem's Silwan neighborhood.

Michal Fattal

The Israel Antiquities Authority has tapped the Kadima party’s Israel Hasson to be its next director — a politician controversial for his ties to the Elad NGO that encourages Jews to move to the Silwan neighborhood in Arab East Jerusalem.

Hasson has been approved by the authority’s board on the recommendation of Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat. The appointment, which archaeologists have criticized due to Hasson’s lack of experience in the field, still needs the approval of the Civil Service Commission and the cabinet.

The director’s post is a powerful one when it comes to archeological digs around the country, not to mention the preservation and research of Israel’s archaeological heritage.

Hasson has served both as a deputy director of the Shin Bet security service and as a Knesset member for Kadima. He would succeed Shuka Dorfman, who died in July. A number of leading archaeologists vied for the post but were rejected.

Over the summer, 40 archaeologists told Livnat that Dorfman’s successor had to be a professional in the field. But Livnat noted that Dorfman, who served for 14 years, was not an archaeologist.

“The question of the appointment of directors is a universal one that has been debated at length by Nobel Prize winners,” Hasson told Haaretz on Tuesday. “Does a director need to be an expert or does he need to manage experts? It’s not for me to judge.”

Elad, meanwhile, is the right-wing group that administers the City of David archaeological site — and national park — in Silwan south of Jerusalem’s Old City.

When queried on Elad, Hasson added: “I am not close or distant to anyone. In the Knesset, I have dealt with various matters in accordance with my official judgment. I am not a member of any nonprofit group, and I have acted because I’ve thought the value of what is known as the City of David is an important value.”

Another nonprofit group, Emek Shaveh, opposes the Israelis’ or Palestinians’ use of archaeology to make claims on land. It has filed a lawsuit seeking to halt the selection of a new director of the antiquities authority.

The High Court of Justice has required the state to explain its criteria in selecting Hasson by early next month. Emek Shaveh says Livnat is speeding up the appointment, and at a hearing on a petition, Justice Hanan Melcer said the court would not accept improper efforts to push Hasson’s appointment through.

But the Culture and Sports Ministry has advantages in the debate as well.

“Contrary to what was argued at the High Court of Justice, Emek Shaveh’s request for a preliminary injunction against the appointment of an antiquities authority director was rejected on September 23,” the ministry said in a statement. “Therefore nothing barred the continuation of the search and appointment processes.”

On Sunday, the High Court also rejected Emek Shaveh’s request for an order suspending the appointment process, the ministry added. “Any claim or hint regarding an expediting of the appointment lacks foundation,” it said.

Left-wing officials criticize Hasson’s ties to Elad. Two years and a half years ago, the Ir Amim nonprofit group filed a petition claiming that Elad’s administration of the park constituted its privatization. Hasson proposed legislation to circumvent court action by authorizing the government to have national parks managed by NGOs.

Hasson admitted he was motivated by a desire to help Elad. His bill was ultimately shelved after the High Court rejected Ir Amim’s petition and let Elad continue administering the City of David park.