Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

26 Adar 5761 - March 21, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Disunity in the Unity Government

by E. Rauchberger

Sharon's "unity government" is far from united. The unity government of 10-15 years ago numbered close to 100 Knesset members, while Sharon's government barely has 72 MKs. A narrow coalition with about half an inch to spare. Even Barak had 80 MKs in the coalition to start with, and his government was not bulging at the seams like the present government.

Even if the collaboration between Labor and Likud has granted the government the title of "Unity Government," Sharon has forgotten about the unity aspect. He has left 18 MK's who are traditionally closer to the Likud and have supported it for many years--or it could be said, have always supported it--out of the government.

The Knesset members referred to, of course, are the five MKs from the National Religious Party, the five MKs from UTJ, the five members of the Center Party which, following the resignations of Savir and Shachak, has become a right-wing party and an extension of the Likud, and the three MKs from Gesher, headed by David Levy.

The Labor Party has tentatively scheduled the elections for its party chairman for the 16th of Elul (September 4th). Until then Sharon will have some peace and quiet from the Labor Party and it will stay in. Afterwards, anything could happen. A new chairman brought in would invariably want to prove himself and to present himself as a viable alternative in order to improve his chances of getting elected prime minister in the next elections, and then, the chances that he would bring about a crisis in order to pull his party out of the government are quite good.

At exactly that point in the game Sharon would suddenly remember that he needs those 18 Knesset members to ensure a majority to maintain the government and to prevent elections. Thus Sharon and the Likud are now committing a grave error: leaving out 18 sure allies who took an active role as loyal supporters of his election campaign is a serious mistake for which Sharon will eventually pay the price--with interest.

Take Yahadut Hatorah (UTJ), for instance. All it asked for was to receive an active ministry in addition to heading the Finance Committee. At one point during the negotiations, the idea of the Ministry for Social and Diaspora Affairs was even suggested, but the Likud denied this portfolio as well, maintaining that it had already been handed over to Melchior in his capacity as deputy minister. Recent reports, however, indicate that a way in may be found for UTJ after all.

The National Religious Party has also been left out, and all the talk about the Likud making efforts to bring it into the coalition and making proposals to Yitzhak Levy is unfounded.

Who is Chairman?

Although the coalition has already set sail, it remains without a captain. According to the coalition agreement, the post should go to the Likud, which has two candidates vying for the job: Zeev Boim and Michael Eitan, who occupied this post during Netanhayu's government.

Eitan is Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's candidate. Last week, when Sharon summoned Likud Knesset members to inform them what each of them would receive, Michael Eitan was invited as well.

When Eitan stepped into Sharon's office and Sharon began to speak with him and to review the list of portfolios he had to hand out, Eitan realized that he was not destined to be a minister. Foregoing the niceties, he asked, "OK, so what is the bottom line? What do you have to offer me?" Sharon replied by proffering a post with which he is already familiar, coalition chairman. As far as Eitan is concerned, after having served as minister for a while during Netanyahu's government, this represents a step backwards.

Let me think it over for a few days, Eitan told Sharon. No, I need an answer right away, said the Prime Minister. But Eitan was insistent. He knew he couldn't give an answer until he had looked into his chances of election within his party, since according to Likud (and Labor) regulations, a secret ballot is held for such positions. Sharon had no choice but to grant his request.

The next day Michael Eitan began paying attention to the voices of opposition within the Likud against his nomination, and realized that he was set to join the outcasts--those who were left empty-handed, such as Matza and Kara, or those who wanted to be ministers and were appointed deputy ministers, such as Gidon Ezra, and would now make Sharon pay.

Eitan is still in the running for the time being, but with his well-honed political instincts, he will be told that he is about to lose despite Sharon's support, Boim will be proclaimed chairman without a contest and Sharon will score his first internal loss.

From Pines to Pines With Love

Knesset members tend to be very fond of themselves, but the degree of self-adulation seen last week reached new heights and set an important precedent in the Knesset.

One Israel chairman Ophir Pines, who served as interim chairman of the Finance Committee for several days, sent a letter to none other than . . . Ophir Pines. From Ophir Pines, chairman of One Israel, to Ophir Pines, chairman of the Finance Committee!

According to regulations, when a party wants to exchange one of its MKs from a given committee, the party chairman has to notify the Knesset Committee chairman, who then gives notice of the personnel exchanges made in the committees.

As party chairman, Pines wanted to exchange several One Israel committee members. MKs such as Shalom Simchon and Salach Tarif, who have joined the government, have abandoned the committees on which they used to serve. On the other hand, returning ministers such as Shlomo Ben Ami, Beige Shochat and Chaim Ramon, had to be assigned to committees with openings available.

So what could One Israel chairman, Ophir Pines, do to allow Knesset Committee chairman, Ophir Pines, to complete the exchange of committee members according to protocol? The solution: to send himself a letter.

Pines, by the way, does not take the letter lightly, and maintains that it is entirely serious. Knesset members who heard about the letter dismissed it as Pines shenanigans. Ilan Ghilon of Meretz, assuming the role of psychologist, said that Pines must have been feeling lonely, and had no choice other than to send himself a letter.

Work Schedule

After assuming office, Education Minister Limor Livnat did not wait a single day before notifying Director-General Shlomit Amichai of her dismissal, and announcing her intention to appoint a new director-general.

The task of director-general, like spokesman, aide, advisor, driver and a series of other jobs, is considered a position of loyalty to which the minister can, and perhaps must, appoint colleagues who can be counted on to remain devoted and faithful to the minister. Therefore, when a new minister takes over, all those serving in positions requiring loyalty are usually replaced.

Nevertheless, this practice involves considerable heartbreak. In spite of the special circumstances, people's livelihood is still at stake, along with the bread and butter of families and children. True, those appointed to this position have to take into account that one day they might be required to clear out, for after all, politics is the name of the game, but still, it is hard to deny that it tears at the heartstrings.

National Infrastructures Minister Avidgor Liberman demonstrated last week that he is a different breed of politician.

This is how the story goes: Moshe Freedman served as spokesman at the Ministry of National Infrastructures during Barak's government. (He has also served as spokesman for the Ministry of Religious Affairs and later as spokesman for the Ministry of Housing.) He was brought to the post by Eli Suissa, and remained there during the days of Beige Shochat, who replaced Suissa after Shas pulled out of Barak's government.

On the day Sharon's government was installed, just hours before the new ministers took over their new posts, Freedman received notice from the ministry's deputy director of staffing that he was to cease work the next morning. Understandably, Freedman was already concerned over his future livelihood and began to look around elsewhere for a new job.

The next afternoon, as part of his responsibilities, Freedman reported to the ministry for the ceremony in which the new minister would be installed, with the knowledge that it was to be his last day of work at the ministry. To his great surprise, at the conclusion of the ceremony, the new minister, Avigdor Liberman, motioned to him and they conducted a brief meeting off to the side.

"I have heard that you received notice to leave the ministry today," Liberman told him, "but I am notifying you that you are staying. I don't throw people out into the street and leave them without work. It could take a month or two, or even more, to find something else, but until then, you're staying here." Freedman was flabbergasted.

On the spot the new minister summoned the deputy director who had sent the unemployment notice, and issued him new directives. Freedman would remain.

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