- The Washington Times - Monday, May 16, 2005

Ambassador recall?

The wife of the Israeli ambassador was surprised yesterday when she saw a report in The Washington Times about a diplomatic scandal that pits her against the wife of the Israeli foreign minister.

Ann Ayalon retained her poise when our correspondent Julia Duin showed her a copy of the article that described the dispute as a “catfight.”

Miss Duin, attending a luncheon at the ambassador’s residence in Northwest, said Mrs. Ayalon would not comment on the affair, but was obviously disappointed that the dispute, widely reported in Israel, had reached Washington.

Meanwhile, Israel Radio yesterday reported on the latest development in the scandal’s sideshow involving the women’s husbands.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom has decided to fire Ambassador Daniel Ayalon instead of waiting to replace him in August at the end of the ambassador’s three-year tour here, the radio said.

However, a diplomat at the Israeli Embassy here said Mr. Ayalon is not packing his bags. He is busy preparing for a visit to Washington next week by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, a strong supporter of the ambassador’s.

The bizarre diplomatic dispute has its origins in a visit to Israel last year by American pop star Madonna, according to Israeli press reports.

The foreign minister’s wife, Judy Nir Moses-Shalom, was angered that the ambassador’s personal assistant, Liran Peterzil, failed to arrange a meeting between her and Madonna. Among his other duties, Mr. Peterzil is responsible for planning trips to Israel for prominent Americans.

Israel’s Channel 2 television news reported Sunday that the ambassador complained in a letter to Israeli Attorney General Menachem Mazuz that Mrs. Moses-Shalom tried to get his assistant fired.

The story broke over the weekend when the Israeli newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, partially owned by Mrs. Moses-Shalom, reported that Mrs. Ayalon was rude to the staff at the ambassador’s residence in Washington and spent too much money on renovations to the house. An investigator from the Israeli Civil Service Commission arrived in Washington yesterday to begin an inquiry into the charges, Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper reported.

No one at the Israeli Embassy is talking to the press about any of the accusations.

One diplomat would say only that the ambassador “is still at the embassy” and making no plans for an early departure. The diplomat also said that Mr. Peterzil is still the ambassador’s assistant.

A senior aide to the prime minister praised the ambassador in comments yesterday to United Press International in Jerusalem.

“Ayalon is an excellent ambassador,” he said. “We are pleased with his work in Washington, and as far as we’re concerned, he should continue.”

Leaving Gaza

Mrs. Ayalon had plenty of other things on her mind yesterday, including a thank-you reception for about 80 contributors to the Lion of Judah and Lion of Judah Endowment funds, each of whom contributed at least $5,000 to the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.

Guests who came to the residence in a forested section of Northwest made their way past a gate and several guards to arrive in a foyer and living room decorated with a huge modern painting and expensive Oriental rugs, Miss Duin reports.

The main speaker, Miri Eisin, 42, a retired colonel with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), told listeners how tourists are pouring into the country. Still, Israeli society is split “at all levels” about the country’s decision to abandon the Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip this summer.

“This summer, it will be Jew vs. Jew,” she said. “I don’t know whether that will mean violence. … Families are being torn apart. [In the IDF], we are training to forcibly remove people from their homes.”

Actually, she said, the Israeli decision to disengage from Gaza is coming from a position of strength.

“It is that we have a backbone. It’s that we’ve won a war against terrorism,” she said.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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