The Foreign Ministry is refusing to disclose Gilad Erdan’s schedule of meetings as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations and the United States, although it admits it has not reviewed the actual contents of the records yet.
Ministry officials claim that the information in the meeting calendars could be diplomatically sensitive and that clearing them for publication would require unreasonable staff hours to accomplish. The ministry has not informed Erdan of the request. He is still UN ambassador, but stepped down as Israel’s ambassador in Washington last year.
The request for the disclosure of Erdan’s meetings was submitted to the ministry nine months ago by the nonprofit group Hatzlacha. Last month, the NGO filed an appeal with the Jerusalem District Court after failing to obtain records of Erdan’s meetings, as well as those of Michael Herzog, who succeeded him as ambassador to Washington in November.
Aryeh Zini, who oversees freedom of information at the Foreign Ministry, told the NGO that the ministry has a policy of not disclosing the meeting schedules of Israeli ambassadors because of diplomatic sensitivities. Disclosure of the information, Zini said, would also “require the allocation of clearly unreasonable resources.”
The ministry previously disclosed the meeting records of Erdan’s predecessor as UN ambassador, Danny Danon, as well as his predecessor as U.S. ambassador, Ron Dermer. It removed information that Zini said could have harmed Israel’s foreign relations or national security, or that would have constituted an invasion of privacy.
Zini asked Hatzlacha to considerably reduce the scope of its request, saying that previous similar requests had required two employees to the be assigned to the task for an extended period.
Without reviewing the contents of the meeting schedules, the Foreign Ministry also said, before the existence of any meeting could be disclosed it would have to consult with any relevant foreign governments to determine whether disclosure would cause any diplomatic harm or security- or media-related damage.
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In the appeal filed in court in February by Hatzlacha legal adviser Elad Man over the ministry’s refusal to comply with the organization’s most recent request, he suggested that the ministry omit sensitive information but disclose why the meetings were not made public.
The Foreign Ministry has previously refused to disclose ambassadors’ meeting calendars. But in February, in a prior appeal by Hatzlachah, a Jerusalem District Court judge ordered the ministry to disclose the meetings of the Israeli ambassador to Georgia and pay 15,000 shekels ($4,700) in Hatzlacha’s legal expenses.
“The Foreign Ministry is continuing to make varying excuses for its unwillingness to release the ambassadors’ calendars and has already been criticized by the court for it, along with being required to pay [legal] expenses,” Man said. “It would have been right to reconsider the policy on the disclosure of the ambassadors’ calendars in light of the clear public interest in public disclosure.”
The Foreign Ministry said that “in light of the diplomatic sensitivity of some of the contents of the ambassadors’ calendars, dealing with requests to provide them requires many hours of work by ministry staff in order to examine possibly providing each and every item in the calendar.
“Complying with the requests requires taking a number of employees away from their work for a considerable time,” the ministry said, adding that if specific information is requested from the calendar, it could be considered on its own and that this position applied to the entire Foreign Ministry, not just Erdan.