Board Urges Ouster of Airports Director

Gabi Ophir's six-year career as director-general of the Israel Airports Authority seems to be ending in tears.

Gabi Ophir's six-year career as director-general of the Israel Airports Authority seems to be ending in tears. Claiming a loss of confidence in Ophir due to his poor functioning, the board of directors is demanding his ouster just a year after recommending to the Transport Ministry that he be given a second term.

The management board, headed by chairman Ovadia Eli, yesterday expressed its lack of confidence in Ophir and recommended that Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz fire him.

However, before doing any such thing, Mofaz will hold a hearing for Ophir.

The board argues that Ophir neglected to handle burning issues such as safety at Israel's main airport, Ben-Gurion International, and labor dissatisfaction that culminated in sanctions, which grounded flights. Also, the directors maintain that Ophir had poor relations with key people at the Airports Authority, including the legal counsel and chairman Eli.

The board convened yesterday at nine in the morning at Ben-Gurion International Airport to discuss whether to recommend Ophir's ouster. The night before, the judge at the Tel Aviv Labor Court, Sara Meiri, rejected Ophir's motion to issue an injunction that would block the board from convening.

In her opinion, Meiri wrote:"The authority to terminate the term of an incumbent director-general of the Israel Airports Authority lies in the hands of the transport minister, in consultation with the board of directors. Since the board has no such authority, the motion before us is inappropriate and there is no place for our intervention."

While the board may not have had the power under the law, it does have the power to voice a recommendation. After a five-hour meeting yesterday morning, the directors decided to recommend that Ophir be let go.

At the board meeting, Ophir commented that the claims against him were groundless. "I will not lend a hand to improper governance at the authority, or to political appointments. Because of that, and based on my opposition to the underhanded change made in worker recruitment procedures, a smear campaign against me began."

Ophir vowed to take his case to the High Court of Justice within days. He added at the meeting that the battle against him isn't a personal one but all about vested interests. "There is a principle of integrity involved, and I will fight over it," Ophir said. "As long as I'm here, I won't let anybody, however high in rank they may be, try to divert the authority from its path."

Ophir had been director-general of the Airports Authority for about six years, following a 33-year career in the arm. Never before, he said, had he been treated as the No. 1 danger to Israeli security.

"Unhappily, I feel that the recommendation has already been finalized, not to say sewn up in advance. I will therefore present my arguments to the transport minister or any other official empowered to hold a hearing," Ophir said.

For their part, Airports Authority directors complained yesterday that Ophir was conducting a smear campaign of his own about political appointments ostensibly carried out by chairman Ovadia Eli,in order to distract attention from complaints about his - Ophir's - mishandling of airport safety issues and his management skills.