In a tailored suit, his beard well groomed, and no longer bespectacled, Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai shuttled from interview to interview: "Nothing will emerge from Annapolis." This minister of nothing now constitutes the government's right-wing benchmark, competing with Avigdor Lieberman over who is more extreme and who will be first to quit the government.
These two ministers represent ethnicity, and both paint their ethnic focus in strong nationalist colors. But while Lieberman represents a party that was founded on racism, Yishai received a relatively moderate party and took it to the extreme right. Seeing him makes one long for the party's founder, Aryeh Deri. Deri's Shas was not a left-wing party, but it expressed relatively moderate political positions and even refrained from undermining the first Oslo agreement (although it opposed Oslo II).
The new Shas, on the other hand, acts and talks as if it is seeking war, and is doing its utmost to undermine the prime minister's efforts - which seem sincere - to end the conflict. This is not just a matter of ideological oscillation. The problem is that Yishai is leading a broad public - some of whom are moderate - to racism, extreme nationalism and hatred of Arabs. He has restored the old status quo to its glory: Mizrahim, versus the Arabs and peace. His views, therefore, are disastrous.
Completely lacking the charisma and personal charm of his predecessor, Yishai has benighted views: He recently spoke about "medication" for homosexuality. He has said he finds the sale of pork, civil marriages and workshops for Jewish and Arab teenagers equally disgusting, which brings him in line with his uncivil spiritual mentor, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
Precisely a year ago, Yishai predicted there would not be a diplomatic process this year. This process would ensue only after "a military decision," he said. Yishai was wrong. That happens. As a former non-commissioned chaplain's assistant in a transport unit, he also is quick to propose military ideas. During the Second Lebanon War, the leader of this party - some of whose voters do not serve in the Israel Defense Forces - suggested obliterating Lebanese villages. On another occasion, he proposed channeling sea water under the Philadelphi route and reconquering it. "There is no army in the world that is more ethical than the IDF," said our commentator on military and moral affairs. As a hawk, he has, of course, supported every military operation in Gaza, as well as tightening the blockade on its helpless population. Yishai was also the first minister to oppose removing the settlers who took over the "House of Dispute" in Hebron. His latest racist proposal is to release Jewish prisoners who have Arab "blood on their hands."
But he is mainly guilty of abusing his role as leader of a social party. This is not just about the bread fiasco, where he diametrically changed his stance on price controls within two weeks, but something much more profound. Yishai is concerned about the poor only in his own community, if not to say his own ethnic group - if at all. He feels nothing for other poor people, like the downtrodden in Gaza, whom we are guilty of starving.
But even if we put aside this intolerable moral distortion, it is impossible to forgive Yishai for his blindness in failing to see that peace is the only promise for the weaker segments of the population. A true social leader in Israel must be a proponent of peace. Only a foe of the settlement enterprise, whose huge budgets could have been used for social needs, is worthy of this title. But this does not interest Yishai. A populist and a coward, he understands that it is much easier to incite the weak against the Arabs and to arouse opposition to any diplomatic progress. To hell with the plight of his voters.
If Ehud Olmert really meant the lofty things he said in Annapolis, he must not wait until Yishai and Lieberman - who threatened to quit if he were to raise the core issues - carry out their threats. Now is the time to throw them out of the government. It will take political courage to do this. Just as Israel demanded that Fatah disband its unity government with Hamas, we may demand that Olmert immediately get rid of Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu. With a deputy prime minister like Eli Yishai, we are not going to make peace.
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