Lives Are at Stake as Airports Authority Reels, Charges Chairman

The judge decided that since the power to fire Ophir belongs to the transport minister, not to the Airports Authority board, there was no room for the court's intervention.

"The Israel Airports Authority is in a state of real collapse. What's happening with safety? What about the labor sanctions? The Airports Authority isn't functioning," claimed its chairman, Ovadia Eli, at a court hearing on Monday evening, at which he obliquely aimed arrows of criticism at director general Gabi Ophir.

The court was hearing Ophir's motion to block the Airports Authority board from convening to discuss his ouster. Ultimately the judge decided that since the power to fire him belongs to the transport minister, not to the Airports Authority board, there was no room for the court's intervention.

Meanwhile, though, Eli took advantage of the occasion to attack Ophir bitterly.

"The members of the Airports Authority board of directors are very serious people," he told the court. "I am starting to feel a little strange here. I'm in danger of developing megalomania," he said sarcastically. "I'm being described as omnipotent, a person who can manipulate people as though they were marionettes. Does that apply to board member Dalia Lev as well?" he asked. (Lev is a businesswoman and a member of the board.)

Eli went on to describe what he called "a serious crisis of faith" in respect to the director-general, Gabi Ophir."

Ophir, said Eli, has no faith in anybody, "So should we replace everybody?" Eli asked. "How can we possibly continue working together under these conditions?"

Regarding the board meeting at which the directors voted no-confidence in Gabi Ophir, Eli said: "They keep talking about holding a hearing, about ousting (him), when it's clear that the issue is forming a recommendation for presentation to the minister, and the right to a hearing will surely be granted by the minister. He is the one who will make the decision."

Ophir's legal counsel, attorney Elad Shraga, said that on August 16, the Airports Authority board held a secret meeting to coordinate its position on calling for Ophir's ouster at the board meeting yesterday.

Eli, defending the meeting then and the decision yesterday, stated: "A great deal of responsibility rests on the shoulders of the board of directors. People's safety on flights and their lives are at stake," he said. "This isn't only about money, like the Heftsiba case." (That was a reference to the construction company that suddenly collapsed in early August, leaving not a few home buyers minus their money and with no new roof over their heads.)

"The directors are deeply worried about developments at the Airports Authority, and about the conduct, the behavior of the director-general," Eli continued. "We have to become more involved, which is why we held that meeting," he said.