An Israeli court has issued a temporary injunction barring the Foreign Ministry from removing its consul general in New York, Shmuel Sisso, pending a hearing. Sisso went to court after learning from his wife of the planned removal. She had heard it on Israel radio while vacationing in Israel. "I had been informed by the Foreign Ministry that I was staying," said Sisso.
"They had completed 99 percent of the paperwork, and they had already paid my children's tuition for the coming school year."
Sisso's term here began on Aug. 18, 1997. It was a two-year position that was renewable annually for up to three years.
Sisso said that when he was given a one-year extension last year, he was told his term would be extended at least two years. He said he knew of at least one other diplomat, Israel's ambassador to Poland, whose term was also abruptly terminated following the resignation of Foreign Minister David Levy. Sisso and Levy were close associates.
"This is the first time in Israeli history that diplomats have been called home without due notice," said Sisso, 49, a political appointee by the Likud government of Benjamin Netanyahu and the first Sephardic Jew to hold the prestigious New York post.
He said he decided to challenge the move because it was his "duty to prevent this from happening to other Israeli diplomats."
Sisso said he feared that if the Foreign Ministry succeeded, it would "kill the incentive of other diplomats to serve abroad, and set a dangerous and sad precedent. This was an unjust act. My reputation and credibility are at stake, especially after [Prime Minister Ehud] Barak himself complimented me on the work I'm doing here."
"Sisso is a wonderful person," an Israeli newspaper quoted Barak as saying just hours after the announcement of Sisso's removal. "I enjoyed very much his service as our consul."
Also supporting Sisso were a group of former chairmen of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who sent a petition to Barak asking him to reconsider the move.
Sisso said he is convinced Barak took the action after being "misled" into believing that Sisso's term was over. Unlike in the United States, Israeli diplomats serve the government and not the party that appointed them. For instance, Colette Avital, Sisso's predecessor in New York, was appointed by the Labor government of Shimon Peres but remained on after Netanyahu was elected.
An Israeli court once ruled that government employees are "not a used tool that can be moved from place to place" because of political changes, Sisso noted.
A business lawyer and former mayor of the city of Kiryat Yam, Sisso pointed out that there were other Israeli diplomats in the United States who were also called home, but that they had been told a year ago that their tenure here would not be extended.
No court date has been set for the hearing.
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