MKs demand Yishai resign, debate government probe

MKs and ministers debate whether it's necessary to establish a governmental commission of inquiry to probe preparedness for the blaze.

Yishai (photo credit: AP)
(photo credit: AP)
A moment of silence in the Knesset for victims of the Carmel fire faded away into hours of blame and recriminations when MKs took the stand in the plenum to offer their condolences to bereaved families, but also to call for the resignation of Interior Minister Eli Yishai.
Yishai, meanwhile, remained on the defensive, describing the criticism against him as a “lynching” and attempting to explain away a Jerusalem Post report that he had refused a donation of fire equipment.
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“The interior minister has direct ministerial responsibility for the firefighting services,” MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) said.
“The person who was given ministerial authority also has ministerial responsibility.”
Horowitz was one of a number of legislators, including Kadima’s Shlomo Molla and Labor’s Eitan Cabel, who singled out the interior minister and called for his resignation.
In response to the Post report that he had refused to accept funding from the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews for further purchases of fire equipment, Yishai said he had been unaware that an IFCJ event that he had declined to attend was for fire equipment.
Had he known, he said, he would have made sure to come.
Yishai said he would attend future events the organization held, as long as it was contributing money for social affairs and not for religious purposes.
The IFCJ said in response that it was holding an event in the Knesset next week, in which it was distributing money to 150 local authorities to help the needy. Yishai, it said, had canceled his attendance at that event as well.
Yishai visited Usfiya on Monday and continued to deflect any blame, shifting it to the Finance Ministry. The interior minister has repeatedly said that he requested additional funds for Israel’s fire services, but that the Treasury was not forthcoming.
During a Monday interview on Israel Radio, Yishai said that calls for his resignation were “a lynching,” with members of his party saying he had become a target due to his Sephardi heritage.
Yishai’s attempts at deflection may, however, have earned him an unexpected adversary.
Sources close to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that he was upset with Yishai for leaking information that appeared to incriminate the prime minister in not providing adequate funds to the fire services, in an effort to clear his own name. Yishai denied that there was any tension between him and the prime minister.
MKs and ministers alike also debated whether it was necessary to establish a governmental commission of inquiry to probe preparedness for the blaze.
Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman sent a letter to Netanyahu on Monday, calling on him to set up such a commission.
“We need to turn the Carmel fire into the ‘Second Lebanon War’ of decision-making in the civilian sphere,” Braverman wrote. “If we don’t pay attention to what occurred and fearlessly investigate it, then we will not learn the necessary lessons.”
The Labor minister argued that the country had learned many important lessons from the Second Lebanon War through the conclusions of the Winograd Committee.
“A committee like this will establish rule, norms and processes that will ensure that in other instances, no less important, on the national agenda, we will know how to govern and prepare ourselves differently,” Braverman said.
A critical State Comptroller’s Report on the country’s fire services is expected to be presented to the Knesset later this week. Although State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss has warned that his report will not include conclusions from the Carmel fire, government officials have said that they prefer to read the report’s conclusions before deciding whether a further investigative commission is necessary.
The Knesset’s State Control Committee, which will be responsible for holding hearings on the anticipated report, announced on Monday that it would visit the Carmel region this Sunday to assess the damage.