Naftali Raz, an Israeli emissary in New York in charge of working with American college students, was fired last week - because of his dovish Mideast views, he contends.
Not so, say his superiors.
Raz, 53 and a founder of Peace Now in Israel, says that after his photo appeared in Israeli newspapers this summer showing him, on a day off from work, demonstrating outside the Camp David summit, he was warned by officials at the Jewish Agency against expressing his political views as a violation of his contract.
"Technically they are right, but there are higher laws than the contract," Raz told The Jewish Week this week, citing two pieces of Israeli legislation guaranteeing personal and employment freedom.
He says his contract and those of other shaliachs may well be illegal in prohibiting basic rights, and he intends to take legal action against the Jewish Agency, which oversees several hundred emissaries around the world, including about 100 in the U.S.
"I received my contract, of about 40 pages of small print, a few hours before I came to America," he says. "That's how it works for all of us. You usually are given the contract along with your airline ticket, and you sign."
After he was advised by a sympathetic superior in August to simply apologize and say he misunderstood the contract, Raz says he insisted that he was within his rights to express his views, and that he planned to continue, as long as it did not interfere with his job.
"They knew my politics, and I told them I was expressing my conscience, and that it had nothing to do with the performance of my work," he says.
Raz maintains he was singled out because he is an outspoken dove within the quasi-governmental agency, headed by Salai Meridor, a political appointee and Likud member.
He says he has the names of dozens of emissaries sympathetic to the political right who helped organize demonstrations for Benjamin Netanyahu when he was prime minister and raised funds for right-wing causes while on the job. "None of them even received a warning," Raz says.
Ephraim Lapid, chief spokesman of the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem, says the case is about adhering to the contract, and the rules apply to any shaliach, on the left or right.
"We cannot have someone representing the Jewish Agency identified with political activity," Lapid said, adding that at least 10 Jewish Agency professionals were involved in the decision over a period of months and that Meridor agreed to, but did not initiate, the firing.
For now, Raz says he will be returning to Israel with his wife and two teenage daughters, but he remains defiant. "I have supported peace since the day I finished reserve duty in 1967, and God has not yet created the man who will censor me, as long as my actions are legal."
Lapid said Raz's claims are inaccurate and should be dealt with "in legal channels."