yishai - Haaretz - December 9 2010
Interior Minister Eli Yishai. Photo by Haaretz
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Eli Yishai prides himself on his honorable titles: deputy prime minister and interior minister. The first title alludes to his leadership of one of the coalition's largest factions, Shas, which he also represents in a more intimate group (albeit lacking legal standing ) that decides security and policy issues - the forum of seven senior ministers. The second title gives him powers and imposes responsibilities.

Since the fatal fire broke out on the Carmel, Yishai has stubbornly refused to understand what his responsibility for a government ministry entails, including a body such as the Fire and Rescue Services. He delayed going to the Carmel, made do with transferring management of the crisis to Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and held fast to the horns of the altar when the state comptroller's report came out on the state of the firefighting services. He attributed the demand that he be removed from office to his "Haredi and Mizrahi" origin. Ethnic discrimination and its twin, religious discrimination, emerged in full force from the burned trees on the Carmel.

Yishai's line of defense is simple: He warned us. He held that same post eight years ago, so he warned then and he warned now. The government did not listen to him, or listened but did not budget the money, or budgeted the money but gave it to him too late. And the government bears joint responsibility. Everyone is responsible so no one is responsible. If he can be made to stand out from the group, such a minister should receive a commendation and not be dismissed.

Yishai became confused. Perhaps he wants to become state comptroller but unfortunately he is the object of the comptroller's criticism. His job is not to warn but to act on the warning. In that he has failed. As the comptroller stated clearly: The people of Israel were abandoned and Yishai is the main person responsible.

In the practical politics of Benjamin Netanyahu's government, as in the internal struggles of Shas and its constituency, with Yishai between the rock of Aryeh Deri and the hard place of Ariel Atias, a lot of pressure would be needed to separate Yishai from the Interior Ministry. But Israel's system of government must not accept such a failure. Yishai bears responsibility for the fire service's failure, so he must step down as soon as possible.