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New Justice Minister Brings Tensions

PM Olmert has solved one Cabinet problem - by appointing Livny as Justice Minister - but has caused another, by passing over Sheetrit. Politics of this type are existentially dangerous, rabbi says.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 11/30/2006, 10:01 AM / Last Update: 11/30/2006, 10:39 AM

Prime Minister Olmert yesterday filled the vacant position of Justice Minister by appointing Tzippy Livny, in addition to her duties as Foreign Minister. The post had been filled by Chaim Ramon until this summer, when he was indicted for forcibly kissing a female soldier. Livny is to step down from the position if Ramon is cleared, but it is not clear who will assume the position if Ramon is convicted. Ramon's trial is expected to end within a matter of weeks.

By solving this problem, however, Olmert has caused another one. Housing Minister Meir Sheetrit, who was appointed by Olmert as temporary Justice Minister three months ago, is miffed that he was passed over for the permanent spot. Sheetrit's aides accuse Olmert of wanting to keep Sheetrit away from power centers, in anticipation of a leadership race within the Kadima Party.

"Olmert is once again acting out of political interests, and not with professional considerations," they blame. Olmert, for his part, says he replaced Sheetrit in order to broadcast the transient nature of the appointment and his confidence that Ramon will return, while the Prime Minister's aides accuse the Housing Minister of "betraying his friends."

Both Livny and Sheetrit have served as Justice Minister in the past - Livny throughout 2005, and Sheetrit from March 2001 to February 2003.

Cartoonist Shai Cherke succinctly summed up the recriminations between Sheetrit and the Prime Minister. His drawing shows Olmert primly telling Sheetrit, "You needn't try to hold fast to a job you received as a result of your predecessor's predicament" - to which a steaming Sheetrit responds, "Look who's talking!" (Olmert was elected Prime Minister after the leader of the Kadima Party, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, entered a coma nearly a year ago, shortly before the national elections.)

The situation is embarrassing to the Israeli government from several aspects, in addition to the Olmert-Sheetrit tensions and the incident itself that led to Ramon's indictment. Ramon has charged that the trial against him was motivated by the desire of police and Justice Ministry elements to victimize him. Police officials admitted that they had not only wiretapped conversations during the investigation of Ramon, but had not handed them over when they should have. At least one wiretap indicated that police investigators were motivated by the desire to prevent Ramon, as Justice Minister, from appointing the next Chief Justice.

Arutz-7 asked Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch of Maaleh Adumim to comment on this apparently sorry state of affairs. Rabbi Rabinovitch - Dean of the Birkat Moshe Hesder Yeshiva in Maaleh Adumim, who made Aliyah from the United States several decades ago - responded with a stern warning, saying that the combination of egotism, hypocrisy, corruption and small-mindedness in the government is actually a danger to Israel's very existence:

"This particular Olmert-Sheetrit dispute is far from the only one of its kind. The problem is that it's typical of so many other similar situations - tensions between the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister, and the Chief of Staff, and in almost every sphere we find a similar combination of egotism and hypocrisy. There is also a problem from the opposite direction - and that is our optimism that we're so sure that 'everything will turn out OK.' This might not be such a wise approach; nothing will happen of itself, and rectifying this situation requires a real effort on our part.

"It's true that in the long run, we know that there is a large segment amongst us whose instincts are basically sound - a healthy generation is growing up based on Torah and values and trust in G-d and in each other; this has been growing in the past 30-40 years in a manner that holds promise for the future and the long-range... But in the short-run, the dangers are very great indeed - not only a danger of collapsing from within, but in many ways, our enemies look at us and truly believe that we are weak and fragile, and may try to take advantage of this. Nasrallah has described us as a spider web society, and Ahmedinejad thinks we are weak - they really believe that; they don’t know about the solid core within us - and they may try to take advantage and deal us a real blow. This is a genuine security danger."

What can be done in the short run?

"What we have to do," Rabbi Rabinovitch said, "is to sound the alarm! We must not be afraid of being alarmists. We have to wake up people to realize that there is an immediate danger. World Jewry must also get involved. US Jewry has much influence with these people, and they can hold public protests against corruption and demand resignations."

"And let it not be said that this is 'meddling in Israel's internal affairs,'" the rabbi concluded. "This is not just internal affairs; it is something that is threatening our existence. And neither must we or they be afraid of speaking out publicly; this is the only way the message will be heard."