Yishai says entire gov't responsible for fire failures

Interior minister tells Knesset Finance Committee, "when a minister struggles and his opinion isn't accepted," entire government to blame.

By REBECCA ANNA STOIL, JPOST.COM STAFF
December 7, 2010 12:01
2 minute read.
Shas head Eli Yishai

Eli Yishai. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

Interior Minister Eli Yishai continued to assert Tuesday that he was not responsible for the failures of Israel's fire services.

During a meeting of the power Knesset Finance Committee to discuss the Interior Ministry's budget for the years 2011-12, Yishai said that he has struggled to increase the budget for the under-funded fire services but that "when a minister struggles and his opinion is not accepted, and the government makes a decision, the collective responsibility is on the entire government."

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On Monday, Yishai said that calls for his resignation were "a lynching," with members of his party saying he has become a target due to his Sephardi heritage, Israel Radio reported.

Yishai said that while the fires were burning in the Carmel he preferred not to respond to the criticism, however now that the fires have been extinguished he plans to react in the coming days.

Yishai told Israel Radio that during his time as interior minister, NIS 100 million were allocated to the fire system, but said it is not a large enough sum. He said that the fire services are unprepared, not for a normal situation and especially not for an emergency.

The Shas head added that in 2002, the fire services asked the government to reinstate the Air Force's fire-fighting activities. Yishai claimed that the Shas ministers in the government at the time were alone in supporting the initiative.

The comments came after a Jerusalem Post report that Yishai refused fire truck donations from a US Christian group due to religious ideology.

While Yishai claimed the "lynching" is coming from a small group of media outlets, calls for his resignation came from all directions.

Senior Labor Party members called for his resignation from his post Sunday night.

"The poor performance in fire and rescue adds to the series of oversights and blind statements made on the part of Yishai. The inevitable conclusion is that it is incumbent upon him to assume responsibility and resign from his position," the party said in statement reported by Army Radio.

On Saturday night the Ometz good governance watchdog called on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to fire Yishai because of his “ministerial responsibility for the failures.” Ometz claimed that the State Comptroller’s Office had recently given the Interior Ministry a draft report pointing out the shortcomings in the Fire Service, which, the organization said, explicitly warned that the service would be hard-pressed in times of national disaster.

The ministry, Ometz complained, did not translate the report into immediate action, nor into demands for an increased budget.

Yishai, in turn, redirected the criticism toward a less-obvious culprit: former prime minister Ariel Sharon.

During an emergency cabinet meeting held in Tel Aviv on Friday, Yishai demanded that a governmental investigative commission be set up to examine the disaster. He cited years of neglect leading to the current situation and said that in 2001, Sharon’s government voted to eliminate air support for firefighting.


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