Documents reviewed by Olive Oil Times provide a detailed chronology of events that took place on the day of a key Council of Members meeting. The IOC denies it intentionally barred the Israeli proxy from attending.
Ignazio Castellucci first realized something was amiss at 8:15 AM when he arrived at the hotel conference room in which the International Olive Council’s (IOC) 109th session of the Council of Members meeting was set to take place.
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After quickly scanning the room, he noticed there was no Israeli flag. This was highly unusual since a letter from Adi Naali, the head of Israel’s delegation to the IOC, had been sent to the Executive Secretariat the previous day, confirming Castellucci’s appointment as a proxy. The bi-annual meeting was set to begin at about 10:30.
Castellucci, an Italian lawyer and adjunct professor at the University of Teramo, had been asked by Naali to attend the meeting as he was unable to do so. The meeting took place in Marrakech, Morocco, which has no formal diplomatic ties with Israel and does not recognize the country as a sovereign state. As a result, Naali said that he was unable to get a visa.
Dear Minister, dear Sirs, I am outside the meeting hall and the security personnel don’t let me in. I showed them the email from the embassy and the letter attached, to no result.
The following events have been constructed using documents reviewed by Olive Oil Times and corroborated in interviews. In a statement made to Olive Oil Times, the IOC neither confirmed nor denied the accounting of events detailed here.
A spokesperson from the organization said that the Executive Secretariat “regrets this setback, which prevented Israel from participating” and plans to investigate Naali’s claims before making a formal report to the Council of Members.
After failing to see the Israeli flag in the conference room, at 8:30 Castellucci went over to the Executive Secretariat working room, in which the IOC’s credential committee had also been operating. After waiting to be seen for 22 minutes, an IOC lawyer finally approached him and informed him that his nomination was not valid and as a result, he would be unable to attend the meeting.
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“A letter from Dr. Adi Naali informing of the appointment for the 109th meeting of Mr Ignazio Castellucci, from a personal email… was received by the Executive Secretariat. This communication was not signed by a competent accreditation authority of Israel (Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development),” a report from the IOC’s credentials committee, which was obtained by Olive Oil Times, said.
“This Committee can not consider [Naali] accredited for this session as he was not appointed by the relevant authority of Israel,” the report continued. “Additionally, Dr. Naali can not accredit another person as head of delegation as he is not accredited by Israel for the current session.”
Naali disputes this claim, saying that he has been the accredited head of Israel’s delegation for the past eight years and stating that he had previously authorized the Turkish delegate to serve as Israel’s proxy at an IOC meeting in 2013.
Naali had used the same email address back in 2013 to inform the Executive Secretariat of this and the Turkish delegate was able to attend on Israel’s behalf without any issues arising.
“It is common procedure for IOC members that if you won’t be able to attend the meeting, you try to authorize someone else to do so,” Naali told Olive Oil Times.
Normally someone from the embassy would go to attend the meeting, but since there is no Israeli embassy in Morocco, Naali needed to ask someone else. He approached the representative from the European Union, but he was already representing Montenegro at the meeting. Several other IOC member countries were also unsure that they would be able to represent Israel.
“So I moved to the other option, which is to authorize another professional to be there as Israel’s delegate, which is what I had done,” Naali said.
In its statement to Olive Oil Times, the IOC said that a 2012 Council of Members meeting was held in Morocco and the Israeli representative that year, Shimon Lavee, was able to attend. The IOC also stated that it had a very strict set of rules “regarding participation and delegation of authority.”
At 9:06, Castellucci called Naali on the phone to inform him that he had been barred from attending the meeting due to a lack of proper accreditation from Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
By 9:37, Naali had forwarded an email written on official government letterhead by Yakov Poleg, the director of the foreign relations department at the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, to the Executive Secretariat stating that Castellucci would replace Naali.
The email had also been sent directly from Poleg to the Executive Secretariat the previous day and received no response.
“Dear Mr. Abdellatif Ghedira [the executive director of the IOC], kindly be informed that Dr. Adi Naali, director of the olive department in Israel’s Plants Board is Israel’s head of delegation, but due to the fact that he wouldn’t be able to arrive to Marrakech, our representative and delegate… is Mr. Ignazio Castellucci,” Poleg wrote in his email.
Once Castellucci had been informed that Poleg’s email was forwarded to the Executive Secretariat, he returned to the room in which the credential committee was set up to tell the officials that an email from Poleg had arrived. He was once again informed by IOC officials that he would be unable to attend the meeting.
At around 10:30, representatives from the credential committee left the office in which they had been working and entered the conference room. Castellucci attempted to follow but was told that he did not have the proper accreditation to attend and turned away from the door.
At 10:33, the lawyer from the Executive Secretariat came out of the conference room and told Castellucci that he would be unable to attend. The meeting began at 10:34.
Castellucci proceeded to call and email Naali, saying that the meeting had started and he had not been allowed to enter. Naali then contacted the Israeli embassy in Madrid and at 10:53 the embassy sent an email to the IOC with another letter authorizing Castellucci to serve as Israel’s proxy.
At 11:04, Castellucci again tried to enter the meeting but was again told he lacked the proper accreditation. He proceeded to write an email to everyone included in the Israeli embassy’s prior email (to which he had been cc’d):
It is common procedure for IOC members that if you won’t be able to attend the meeting, you try to authorize someone else to do so.
“Dear Minister, dear Sirs,” he wrote. “I am outside the meeting hall and the security personnel don’t let me in. I showed them the email from the embassy and the letter attached, to no result.”
It remains unclear whether the security staff to whom Castellucci referred in his email were staff members of the IOC or the Moroccan government.
At 11:12, Castellucci spotted two IOC staff members and asked them to try and print the email from Poleg. The two staff members said they will try to do so and went off to another part of the hotel.
Seventeen minutes later, the two staff members returned and informed Castellucci that they were unable to print the letter. They returned to the meeting and said they would ask the IOC lawyer to come out and see the emails on Castellucci’s phone. The lawyer did not come out.
At 11:41, one of the IOC staff members came out of the meeting and handed Castellucci the printed Poleg email and embassy authorization. Castellucci approached the security staff and asked them to take the documents to the lawyer. A staff member agreed to do so, but returned shortly afterward and informed him that the lawyer was unable to read the documents at the moment.
Castellucci proceeded to write a second email to all of the recipients of his previous email.
“I just asked one of the persons at the door to get in and bring copies of the embassy’s email and attached letter to the IOC lawyer inside the hall, it seems that he refused to read it, ‘being too busy’,” Castellucci wrote.
At 11:50, the Council of Members meeting broke for a coffee break. Castellucci approached the staff at the door and asked if they could take the papers to the lawyer now. They refused and said when he came out, Castellucci could give them to him himself.
By 11:58 the lawyer had not come out and Castellucci approached a member of the IOC support office and asked her to bring the papers to the lawyer. She responded that she was not authorized to do so.
Two minutes later, the lawyer emerged from the room and headed in the opposite direction from Castellucci. He tried to get the lawyer’s attention but failed to do so.
At 12:20, Castellucci spotted Miguel Garcia Navarro, the head of the European Union delegation, and asked him for assistance. Garcia Navarro responded that he was not in a position to help Castellucci out and returned to the meeting.
Israel is a founding country that has always participated in the activities of the organization and Dr. Naali, who officially represents his country at the IOC since 2012, is a very active member who has always enriched the meetings of the Council with his extensive knowledge in the field.
At this point, Castellucci left the hotel after trying to gain access to the meeting for the past four hours.
During the meeting Ghedira, Deputy Director Jaime Lillo and Mustafa Sepetçi, the director of the IOC’s technical, economic and promotional units, were all re-elected to four-year terms.
According to Naali, these three positions are generally chosen by consensus and while he did not say that Israel would have blocked any of these appointments, he did emphasize that he thought Israel should have participated in the discussion.
“I would think an issue of this importance needed to be discussed in detail at the session without the exclusion of some of the member countries,” Naali said. “We could debate the issues for a very long time, but usually we find a consensus.”
On Friday, Naali wrote a letter to the IOC to make his discontentment known. He said that as a result of Israel’s exclusion, the country would not consider any of the business done in the meeting legitimate.
“It is clear that this maneuver of blocking the entrance of the Israeli delegate, making incorrect statements and omitting documents to the Council, had the objective of impeding Israel’s participation in the meeting,” Naali wrote.
“Due to these circumstances, Israel does not consider the renovation of the senior Directors of the IOC to be legitimate, and does not trust in its management for the future,” he added.
The spokesperson from the IOC denied that Israel’s delegate had been intentionally excluded from the event and praised Naali for his contributions to the international olive oil sector.
“Israel is a founding country that has always participated in the activities of the organization and Dr. Naali, who officially represents his country at the IOC since 2012, is a very active member who has always enriched the meetings of the Council with his extensive knowledge in the field,” the spokesperson said.
The report from the IOC’s investigation into the matter is expected next month.