Appointment of Israel's New Antiquities Chief Embroiled in Politics

Archeologists decry culture minister's handling of replacement of chief who recently died.

Israel Antiquities Authority
Israel Antiquties Authority workers conducting an archaelogical excavation at Moshav Aluma, January 22, 2014. Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Several politicians, archaeologists and officials are contending for the role of director-general of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

However, sources familiar with the subject told Haaretz politics will determine the identity of the new antiquities chief to replace Shuka Dorfman, who died 10 days ago.

The short list of candidates reportedly includes MK Yisrael Hasson (Kadima), former minister Effie Eitam, head of the National Heritage Program in the Prime Minister’s Office Reuven Pinsky, Deputy IAA director general Dr. Uzi Dahari and Jerusalem District Archaeologist Dr. Yuval Baruch.

Eitam, who heads an oil company set to drill in the Golan, denied his candidacy. Hasson said he was asked to contend and did not object.

After Dorfman’s death it transpired there was no legal procedure for appointing a successor. Culture Minister Limor Livnat, whose ministry is in charge of the authority, last week issued new regulations stipulating she is the one to decide on the new antiquities director-general.

The Israel Antiquities council, however, wants to have more influence in the process and is demanding that the committee appointed to select the new director-general consist of at least one archaeologist and three council members. The council also insists that the new director has an advanced academic degree, preferably in archaeology or Land of Israel studies.

Senior archaeologists and council members blasted the process initiated by Livnat and said the candidate must be an archaeologist. “Shuka was the exception that proves the rule," one archaeologist said. "The heads of antiquity divisions are professionals all over the world.”

According to the law, the antiquities director is empowered to set Israel’s archaeological policy, weighing real estate development interests versus preservation as well as numerous political issues.

The rightist organization Elad, which is involved in populating East Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood with Jews, has become one of the most active archaeological bodies in the country. Other rightist organizations have also displayed an interest in archaeology in recent years and the next Antiquities Authority chief will have to determine the policy regarding these bodies.

Minister Livnat’s office commented, “The allegations are groundless and indicate mainly a complete misunderstanding of the issue and unfamiliarity with the law.”

Her office's official statement read: “According to the law, the council will appoint a candidate according to the minister’s proposal. It is the minister’s authority to propose a candidate and to decide on the composition of the selection committee. Any attempt to attribute a political affiliation or motive to the procedure is wild slander bordering on libel."

The statement added, "The procedure stipulates the requirements of the candidates according to the law. In addition, the selection committee is permitted to set additional qualifications.”