Analysis: A scripted tussle on the cabinet wrestling mat

Much like pro wrestling, the matches look real on television, but everyone who is at the event knows that it is all a show.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
October 4, 2006 23:43
2 minute read.
Analysis: A scripted tussle on the cabinet wrestling mat

Pines 88. (photo credit: )

Israeli cabinet meetings have long ago stopped being serious forums on the future of the country and become made-for-TV sporting events. Much like pro wrestling in the US, the matches might look real if you are watching at home, but everyone who is at the event knows that it is all a show and everything is carefully scripted in advance. Wednesday's cabinet meeting was a case in point. The tussle between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Science, Culture and Sports Minister Ophir Paz-Pines began with a modest censure of Paz-Pines by Immigrant Absorption Minister Ze'ev Boim, who substituted for Interior Minister Roni Bar-On in the role of Olmert's tag-team partner. Ministers noticed that Boim even sat in Bar-On's regular seat. Olmert followed by body-slamming Paz-Pines for an interview he gave to Maariv in which he criticized the last 48 hours of the war in Lebanon, a soft spot for the prime minister. Olmert accused Paz-Pines of "violating the ethics of public service" and threatened to fire him if he continued acting too independently. Paz-Pines responded that the government was not a chorus that had to sing in unison and that the public needed to know that there were differences of opinion in the cabinet. He said that everything he said in the interview he said in cabinet meetings during the war, but that he made sure not to publicize his criticism until the last soldier left Lebanon. Those were the messages that both Olmert and Paz-Pines made sure would reach the public from the cabinet meeting, which at least theoretically was closed to the press and off the record. Spokespeople for both men gave reporters the play by play from behind closed doors. Both Olmert and Paz-Pines scored points from their proverbial wrestling match. Paz-Pines looked like a champion for the doves watching at home who will decide whether he will win the Labor leadership primary in May. And the prime minister showed yet another contender for his title just who is boss. The irony of the m l e between Olmert and Paz-Pines was that what angered Olmert in the first place was a statement that Paz-Pines says he never made. Maariv quoted Paz-Pines on its front page on Sunday saying that Olmert misled his ministers during the war. Paz-Pines called a Maariv editor on Tuesday to complain about the headline and deny that he had made such a statement. He could have informed Olmert about the mistake at the beginning of the cabinet meeting and all would have been forgotten. But that would not have made good television. Olmert has learned from his predecessor, Ariel Sharon, about how to use cabinet meetings as a bully pulpit for attacking political rivals. Paz-Pines was only the most recent candidate for prime minister to be the subject of Olmert's wrath. Amir Peretz, Shaul Mofaz and Avi Dichter preceded Paz-Pines and don't be surprised if Olmert finds an excuse to criticize Binyamin Netanyahu, Meir Sheetrit, Ami Ayalon or Avishay Braverman in upcoming weeks.


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