Internal management feud paralyzes Ben-Gurion Airport

Workers at Ben-Gurion Airport had to face a busy schedule and the rage of passengers recently whose flights were delayed due to an acute shortage of manpower that resulted from an internal feud in airport management. Though the summer tourist season is waning, vacation for many Israelis is just around the corner, and record numbers of Israelis plan to depart and land in Israel during the upcoming holidays. Nevertheless, say the workers, someone at Israel Airports Authority [IAA] has neglected to prepare for this busiest time of the year and to hire, as they do every year at this time, temporary workers to share the burden. As a result, 13 crews of luggage porters had to handle 20-30 departures and landings an hour over the last few weeks, which caused heavy disruptions. Six more crews are usually hired on a temporary basis during high season. But an airport worker said that the root of the problem was not just forgetfulness but political infighting. "They didn't just forget to do so, they were - and still are - so busy fighting and keeping their seats they don't even notice they are paralyzing an entire country," he told The Jerusalem Post. "And the transportation minister just stays aloof and won't do anything to make the situation bearable for the passengers and the workers," said the worker, who asked that his name not be disclosed. The internal conflict at the IAA started eight months ago, shortly after Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz appointed a new chairman to the board of directors, Eli Ovadia. Ovadia is a former mayor of Afula (1978-1991), a former Likud minister and the former chairman of the Bazan oil refineries. Ovadia and Gabi Ophir, CEO of IAA, whose appointment was also extended a year ago for five more years by Mofaz, do not seem to get along well, and lately they have been slandering each other in the media. Those in Ophir's camp have claimed Ovadia recently appointed three of his people to sit on the board of directors in an attempt to remove him. On the opposing side, Ovadia's people were busy leaking to the media news of the large sums that are channeled by Ophir from IAA coffers to private public relation companies whose purpose, they say, is solely to enhance Ophir's image. Late on Monday, Ophir's lawyers, Eran Spindel and Eliad Shraga, turned to the regional labor court in Tel Aviv, asking for a restraining order to prevent a board of directors meeting that is set for Tuesday morning from voting on Ophir's dismissal. "Eli Ovadia wants to get rid of Ophir so he can continue executing his old policy of political appointments and nepotism, an IAA policy that was banned three years ago by a High Court of Justice's decision," Spindel told the Post Monday. Spindel added that last Thursday they filed a petition against Ovadia and Mofaz over the same issue. "Over the last few months, Ovadia and his people have ambushed Ophir on any decision he took and thwarted any action he instructed, especially when Ophir recommended dismissing Ze'ev Sarig, manager of Ben- Gurion Airport, due to severe safety failures, a recommendation that was rejected by Mofaz. We hope the court will issue a restraining order against this attempt to execute underhanded opportunism, with a board of directors which is not ready to listen seriously to Ophir, just to dismiss him from his position," said Spindel. Ovadia refused to elaborate on his reasons to dismiss Ophir, but strongly denied the accusations according to which he was conspiring to get rid of the current CEO in order to allow him free reign to appoint key personnel. "As evidence, not one person was appointed by Ovadia so far," the board's statement read. The statement went further: "Directors at the board of directors are appointed by the Minister of Transportation alone. Recently, three new directors were appointed, they were not appointed to replace others. Either way, the chairman had nothing to do with these appointments." The Transportation Ministry refused to comment on the issue. Meanwhile, the workers' committee spokesman reported that 31 new temporary workers were hired in the last couple of days, and that the last few weeks' disruptions were expected to be reduced.