yishai - Ofer Vaknin - December 6 2010
Interior Minister Eli Yishai. Photo by Ofer Vaknin
Text size

Eli Yishai is furious. "It's a lynching," the interior minister said to Haaretz on Sunday, in response to growing pressure for him to resign over the Carmel fire.

Yishai was the first to go on the defense - he called for a state committee of inquiry and had his spokesman give the media documents ostensibly exonerating his conduct. Now the Shas chairman is going on the offensive.

Last night, as the fires were being extinguished, Yishai and his party colleagues in the cabinet said he was being persecuted partly due to the fact that he is ultra-Orthodox, right-wing and Mizrahi.

"Everybody knows exactly what I did, but facts don't matter," Yishai said yesterday after a day spent near the fires, including a cabinet session in Daliat al-Carmel and meetings with heads of communities affected by the blaze.

"I don't know of any minister who fought more in any specific area than I did for the firefighting forces, but after fighting with the Finance Ministry and obtaining a sum that none of my predecessors had ever obtained - and I know that it is not enough - I am still subject to attack," Yishai said.

He said that while it might appear that he was engaged in issues beyond the Interior Ministry's jurisdiction, this "cannot be compared to what I did on behalf of the firefighting services. I informed the prime minister that I wouldn't be able to support the cabinet on certain matters unless additional allocations were granted."

When asked why he did not turn the issue into a coalition crisis, as Shas has done with other issues, Yishai said, "I fought with all my strength, what else can be expected of a cabinet minister? I didn't expect to be complimented for what I did, but what is happening here is a lynching."

What's the reason for the "lynch atmosphere"?

"Someone wrote in an article online today saying the answer might lie in a minister who is Sephardi-Mizrahi, right-wing and Haredi. It's a combination everyone likes to attack, it doesn't matter whether it is justified or not. If it weren't Eli Yishai, a cabinet minister who acted this way would be a star, he would be praised for warning in time.

"I don't usually speak this way, but I am expressing the feelings of a very large public," Yishai said. "I am pained by the incitement, by the attempt to foment hatred, but most of all I am pained personally by the dead and injured. As far as I'm concerned, they can write anything they want about me."