Civil Service Commission, Israeli Attorney General at Odds Over Foreign Ministry Appointment

Avichai Mendelblit's attempt to appoint former ambassador Daniel Taub to the post of ministry legal counsel stymied by civil service opposition.

Daniel Taub .
Bau Bau

The vehement opposition of the Civil Service Commission has prevented Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit from approving the appointment of the foreign ministry’s new legal adviser.

Daniel Taub, Israel’s former ambassador to London, was due to be appointed to the post on Tuesday. But the meeting of the appointments committee was canceled at the last minute following the intervention of Assaf Rosenberg, head of the commission’s disciplinary department.

In a sharply worded four-page letter sent Monday evening, Rosenberg protested the convening of the appointments committee while Taub was still the subject of an investigation into possible misconduct while serving in London, according to a senior official in Jerusalem. The letter was sent to Civil Service Commissioner Moshe Dayan, Foreign Ministry Director General Dore Gold and Mendelblit.

Rosenberg cast doubt on the internal foreign ministry investigation into the suspicions against Taub and described Mendelblit’s legal opinion on the issue as an attempt to “whitewash” the appointment. “As long as the Civil Service Commission’s investigation has not ended, the appointment should not be discussed,” wrote Rosenberg, according to the senior official.

Mendelblit was compelled to suspend the appointment process after receipt of Rosenberg’s letter.

“Following an appeal by the head of the disciplinary branch of the Civil Service Commission, the attorney general has instructed that the tender for this position be frozen until the issue is sorted out,” Justice Ministry officials confirmed.

A ministry official told Haaretz that "Mendelblit and the Civil Service Commissioner are working together and in the coming days will decide how to continue to deal with this issue."

Rosenberg’s letter and the postponement of the committee session is a blow to Mendelblit who has been trying for two months to revive Taub’s appointment. He was initially disqualified in February by an appointments committee, chaired by Gold.

Taub was the leading contender for the job and his appointment was regarded as a virtual certainty, but the committee ultimately decided that none of the applicants, including Taub, was suitable.

Taub’s term as ambassador to London from 2014-2015 was marred by several late-night visits to the ambassador’s house that were not coordinated with the local police, as required by security agreements with the United Kingdom, according to senior foreign ministry officials.

The visits continued, even after British security agencies drew the ambassador’s attention to them. Eventually, a formal protest was lodged by British security services with the embassy’s security officer, in which they threatened to withdraw their responsibility for safeguarding the ambassador and his home.

The foreign ministry launched an investigation by its internal controller, without updating the Civil Service Commission’s disciplinary department, as required. Taub claimed during the investigation that the nocturnal visits were for “new age” treatments he was receiving for health reasons. The investigation determined that Taub had breached security procedures without committing any criminal wrongdoing and sufficed with a disciplinary note in his file.

Nevertheless, Taub’s request for a one-year extension of his term, as is customary, was turned down.

Taub is considered to be one of the most senior and respected members of the foreign service. He is an expert in international law and was a member of the team that conducted peace talks with the Palestinians.

He and Mendelblit worked together closely in the past, both when Mendelblit was military advocate general and when he was cabinet secretary. The two worked together on the Goldstone report, following Operation Cast Lead, as well as on topics related to international law which Israel had to deal with.

Only two days after assuming office as attorney general, Mendelblit asked that all the relevant material in Taub’s case be transferred to him, including the foreign ministry’s internal report. In a subsequent report, he determined that the original tender process for the post of ministry legal adviser had been flawed.

He maintained that only partial information relating to Taub’s misconduct had been put before the investigation and that Taub did not receive an opportunity to argue his case before the committee in order to explain his actions.

According to a senior Justice Ministry official, Mendelblit’s report focused on flaws in the tender process but did not refer to the actual misconduct or to the weight the committee should attribute to Taub’s actions in their decision-making process. “Nevertheless, from the information transferred by the foreign ministry to Mendelblit, it appears that there is no suspicion of criminal wrongdoing on Taub’s part.”

Mendelblit instructed the committee to reconvene with new members in order to reconsider the appointment, thus disqualifying Gold’s decision and removing him from the appointment process.