(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert lambasted opposition MKs for forcing him to defend his decision to not appoint new immigrant MKs to ministerial positions in a specially called Knesset session Wednesday.
"I appointed ministers according to their ability, not according to their immigration status," Olmert said. "I believe the people of Israel are mature enough to appreciate why I made the decisions I did."
The session was called on behalf of more than 40 MKs from the parties in the opposition to debate "the harm done to immigrants due to the composition of the new government." The special request compelled Olmert to attend and address the Knesset. The Knesset voted on Olmert's speech, with 50 MKs voting in favor of the prime minister, 40 against, and two abstentions.
MK Marina Solodkin (Kadima) was the most visible of the abstentions, since Olmert's failure to appoint Solodkin to a ministerial position was repeatedly called up by the opposition MKs.
"I look around this crowded minister's table and I can't understand how there is not a single representative of the immigrant population," said MK Gideon Sa'ar (Likud). "How is it possible that Marina Solodkin, the number six on your [Kadima] list did not receive a position?"
Sa'ar said that Kadima had marketed itself to voters during the election campaign by placing Solodkin high on their list, and promising that Solodkin would be appointed Deputy Immigration Minister. During coalition negotiations, however, Olmert decided to cancel the deputy ministerial positions following public outcry over the size of the cabinet.
"It is absurd that you called the prime minister away from his busy schedule for these empty political accusations," said MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima). "Who are you [Likud] to talk? The highest immigrant slot on your list was number 39."
Although 40 MKs called for Wednesday's special session, barely half of them were in attendance when Olmert strode into the plenum. Accustomed to addressing packed Knesset sessions, the prime minister checked his watch several times and appeared visibly annoyed.