Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Eli Yishai built himself a paper wall in the past few days. Yishai is responsible for the state's firefighting forces, which was insufficiently prepared to contend with the massive blaze in the Carmel. He has taken refuge from the criticism being hurled at him behind a fortress built of agreements, memorandums and notes that he sent, reinforced by his confidential whisperings, "in innermost chambers," as he put it, to his colleagues.
Perhaps this is the way of a religious man, who prays with great intent and leaves the execution to a higher power. Yishai's leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, even found a connection between the disaster and desecration of Shabbat. Private individuals have the right to think whatever they like, but not public figures serving as leaders.
To Yishai's credit it must be said that he is neither blind nor stupid. The same must be said, however, to his discredit. Yishai's paperwork documents demands and warnings across multiple years and terms in office. For that reason, he is the appropriate address for claims and accusations: After you made your reports, what did you do?
Yishai accuses Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and treasury officials of turning down his requests to increase the firefighting budget. But he himself did not show the same persistence that he demonstrated in his battles against the children of labor migrants or in favor of allowances for the Haredim and the expansion of settlements in East Jerusalem.
Cabinet ministers are appointed as politicians but they are obligated to function as heads of organizations within the executive branch. Ministers often argue among themselves over authorities and areas of jurisdiction. The Israel Lands Administration, for example, wandered with Ariel Sharon from one ministry to another. Ministers want influence, whether through generous allocations to local governments or through handing out jobs. They are less generous when it comes to being accountable for events in their own backyards.
Yishai failed to understand what it means to be a cabinet minister. When he was appointed to serve in the current government, more than a year and a half ago, and in previous governments, he took upon himself responsibility for the state's firefighting and rescue services, among other responsibilities. Yishai is not a victim of the disaster, but rather one of its main culprits. This culpability is meaningless if he does not resign and if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is afraid to sack him.
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