A Minister or a Protester?

Interior Minister Eli Yishai cannot pretend to be virtuous by being party to a policy he thinks is mistaken while protesting against it with members of the public.


Interior Minister Eli Yishai announced yesterday that he was joining the later stages of the march for captive soldier Gilad Shalit. The marchers set out yesterday from the Shalit family's home in Mitzpeh Hila, heading for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem. Yishai's announcement is puzzling, to say the least. The assessment last night that other ministers might join the march totally obscures the scope of a cabinet member's responsibility.

It is of course good that Shalit's fate touches the heart of the interior minister, and good, too, that he wants to show his concern along with the crowds of marchers. However, a member of the forum of seven senior ministers, which is responsible for deciding on a deal for Shalit's release, cannot live in both worlds. He cannot be both a party to decision-making and a concerned citizen protesting against the government of which he is a top member.

After the demonstration by Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush, who pitched a tent opposite Maasiyahu Prison to protest against the High Court of Justice's decision in the Immanuel school-segregation case, now comes the interior minister, who takes the madness even further.

Yishai's proper place is at the cabinet table. Responsibility for Shalit's fate is on his shoulders, just as it is on the shoulders of Netanyahu and the rest of the cabinet. If the interior minister believes that the cabinet has not done enough to free the captive soldier, he should take the steps expected of a minister and try to win a cabinet majority to support his position. He should also voice his position in public.

If his request is not adopted, he should accept the decision of the majority with the knowledge that he is a full partner to it, or in extreme cases, he should resign from the cabinet. That is the significance of the collective responsibility that exists among cabinet members.

Yishai cannot simply pretend to be virtuous by being party to a policy he thinks is mistaken, perhaps seriously so, while protesting against it with members of the public. This is a populist step by someone who wants to sit in the cabinet while evading ministerial responsibility for Shalit's fate by showing the public he is part of the Shalit family's popular cause.

Yishai has to decide whether he is a minister or a demonstrator. Being both is intolerable.