Analysis: Will whistle-blower Zelekha be able to keep his job?

From a purely legal point of view, it seems unlikely - but not impossible.

By DAN IZENBERG
August 31, 2007 00:16
2 minute read.
yaron zelekha 88

yaron zelekha 88. (photo credit: )

 
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From a purely legal point of view, it seems unlikely - but not impossible - that Yaron Zelekha will be able to hold on to his job as accountant-general in the Finance Ministry. There are two laws that deal with the issue of whistle-blowers, which seems to be a fair term to describe Zelekha. After all, it was Zelekha's testimony against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that has provided the strongest evidence in a criminal investigation alleging that the prime minister intervened in the Bank Leumi privatization tender. One law gives the state comptroller the authority to reinstate a worker who was fired for whistle-blowing, while another allows an employee to petition the Labor Court to protest his removal. According to this law, the court may nullify the dismissal or order the employer to pay compensation. In the case of Zelekha, the question is whether the above laws apply to a senior civil service official whose contract expires and is not renewed by his superiors. According to Civil Service Commissioner Shmuel Hollander, the situation is clear. Hollander's spokesman, Aryeh Greenblatt, told The Jerusalem Post: "As far as we are concerned, failure to renew a contract is not the same as dismissal. The employee has a contract. His superior doesn't want him to continue. The minister calls him and tells him he doesn't want to renew it. That's it." State Attorney Eran Shendar agreed, saying, "there is no reason for us to intervene with the finance minister's decision." Justice Ministry spokesman Moshe Cohen explained that Zelekha's job is one of several that do not require a public tender and are defined as jobs requiring a great deal of mutual trust and confidence between the appointed official and the minister. Cohen pointed out that this did not mean that a new minister could automatically fire an official holding a job requiring mutual confidence appointed by a previous minister. The term of office must be for "an acceptable and reasonable amount of time," according to the attorney-general. But Cohen said Shendar was of the opinion that in the case of Zelekha, who has held the post for four years, that condition had, in fact, been fulfilled. The one senior official who could intervene on Zelekha's behalf and has not declared that he will not is State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss. His office issued a statement saying, "The state comptroller has declared on a number of occasions that whistle-blowers will receive protection according to the law after the circumstances have been investigated. This protection is of important and immediate help in the fight against public corruption." Lindenstrauss added that if Zelekha complained about the Finance Ministry's refusal to renew his contract, "we would look into the matter immediately." Meanwhile, attorney Itzhak Bam, a member of the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, told the Post, "The law does not only addresses dismissals but also changes in the status of the employee. "Often, contracts are extended as a matter of course. This is not happening in the case of Zelekha, and we know that Zelekha allegedly uncovered corruption on the part of Olmert," Bam said. "It is very likely that there is a causal relationship between Zelekha's actions and the fact that his contract was not renewed. If the matter reaches the High Court of Justice and the court comes to this conclusion, the attorney-general will be hard-pressed to defend the minister of finance."

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