Eli Yishai Places Blame on Treasury for Delaying Funding to Firefighters

Embattled interior minister lashes out at treasury officials, accusing them of having delayed the transfer of funds allocated to bolster the fire services.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who continues to fend off criticism of his conduct as the official in charge of Israel's firefighting service, is preparing for the likelihood of an investigation into the blaze at the Carmel Forest.

A day after complaining in an interview with Haaretz that he was the victim of a "media lynching," because of his political affiliation and ethnic background, Yishai directed his attack on Monday at the finance minister.

Eli Yishai Dec. 6, 2010 (Itzik Ben Malki)
Itzik Ben Malki

During a visit to the Carmel region, Yishai said that efforts to rebuild are likely to be hampered by "the terribly bureaucracy," vowing to "personally lead the fight against it."

He also said that "unfortunately we live in a country where treasury officials, who are free of responsibility, have authority, while elected officials, who bear responsibility, have no authority. The treasury officials are the reason for the delays."

Yishai visited Tirat Carmel, the communities of the Hof HaCarmel Regional Council, and Isfiya and Daliat al-Carmel, and met there with local mayors. His visit prevented him from returning to the Knesset in time to participate in deliberations held on the investigation into the fire. By the time he arrived, he was only able to spend a few minutes in the plenum.

Yishai said that during his past two years as interior minister he worked incessantly to bolster the capabilities of the fire services, but the finance ministry had delayed transferring funding that had already been approved by the government.

An sum of NIS 100 million, he said, had indeed been transferred in recent months, but the money had not yet been used for procurement.

Yishai told Haaretz Sunday that he believes he is the target of a media lynch.

"Someone wrote an article on the Internet today saying that the answer [to the firefighting fiasco] can be found in the combination of a minister who is a Sephardi-Mizrahi, a right winger, and an ultra-Orthodox," he said. "It is a combination that everyone would love to target, regardless of whether it is justified or not. If it was not Eli Yishai, a minister who would have behaved this way would have been a star, they would praise him for having warned [of shortfalls] for so long. I do not usually speak this way, but this expresses the sentiments of a very large segment of the public."

As part of his defense, Yishai pointed to a letter he wrote in 2002, during his first term as interior minister, to Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, the former defense minister, warning him not to cut funding for firefighting aircraft. In his letter, Yishai warned of a "mass disaster."