Government Reshuffle Provokes Outrage, Election Preparations

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has termed the new Cabinet appointments “problematic” and preparations are being made for the government's demise.

Ezra HaLevi,

Deputy-PM Chaim Ramon
Deputy-PM Chaim Ramon

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has termed the new Cabinet appointments “problematic” and allies say new Vice-Premier Chaim Ramon will be the “contractor of the government’s collapse.”

MK Eitan Cabel told Army Radio Thursday morning that he expects the Olmert government to fall and new elections to be held within a year. He represents a growing sentiment in Labor, as well as in the Opposition that the government is nearing its final days. The rumblings come a day after a reshuffle entailing several new ministerial appointments was announced.

Other Labor ministers were quoted saying Ramon's position gives him poorly-defined authorities that will cause friction with Defense Minister Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

One of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s aides defended Ramon’s position to Army Radio Thursday morning, saying Ramon would oversee specific projects, such as the fence being built between pre-1967 Israel and Judea and Samaria. He also said that Labor Chairman Barak’s position as Defense Minister makes it highly unlikely that the party will bring down the government anytime soon.

The Opposition is gearing up for elections, however, with the Likud Party due to hold primaries for chairman and candidacy for prime minister in the first week of September. The decision, reported first on Arutz-7 and announced by Netanyahu on Wednesday, still requires approval by the Likud Central Committee ('Mercaz'), which will convene next week.

Ramon’s Confirmation Marred by Heckling, Boycott
"It makes sense that Olmert would take a convicted criminal as his deputy,” MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union-NRP) yelled out at the Knesset vote to approve Ramon’s appointment, “seeing as [Olmert] himself will soon be standing before a criminal court."

MK Tzvi Hendel (National Union-NRP) weighed in as well, saying: "Only a corrupt, shameless and immoral government deserves to have a convicted sex offender as its Vice-Premier."

Government members Public Security Minister Avi Dichter (Labor), MK Amira Dotan (Labor) and MK Shelly Yechimovich (Labor) boycotted the vote.

Olmert says Ramon did not request any position in the government’s reshuffle. "It seemed perfectly natural to me that Chaim would return to the government," he said. "I wanted Chaim in the government very much."

A coalition of women's organizations voiced anger and amazement Wednesday at the decision to appoint Chaim Ramon to a senior government position despite his conviction of indecent behavior with a female soldier who served in the Prime Minister's Office on the day the Second Lebanon War broke out.

Immigrants Disappointed
Though the appointment of Chaim Ramon as Vice-Premier was the most controversial, another appointment raised ire as well.

New immigrants are outraged that the politicians involved in the reshuffle all sought to avoid receiving the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption. The current minister, Ze’ev Boim was relieved of the position, which he tried to leave in the past, and transferred to the Housing Ministry.

Incoming Immigrant Absorption Minister Yaakov Edri reportedly wrote to Olmert that he would prefer to remain Minister Without Portfolio.

Kadima MK Marina Solodkin, an immigrant from Russia, has requested the job since the government was elected, but was passed up for a second time Wednesday, reportedly due to her having called for Olmert to be replaced as head of the party.

Political analyst Gil Hoffman notes that whereas until now, the annual planeloads of new immigrants from North American have been greeted by successive Absorption Ministers, Edri does not speak English.