Behind The Lines: The third degree

With the innocence of a calf, Estherina Tartman strode into the abattoir and destroyed her political career.

mk tartman 298.88 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
mk tartman 298.88 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
When light was first shed on the fantasy world inhabited by Tourism Minister-designate Estherina Tartman, I felt sort of sorry for her - since it was clear she was being prepared for the slaughter. Clear - that is - to everyone but herself. With the innocence of a calf, she strode into the abattoir and destroyed her political career. This is not to say that anyone other than Tartman is to blame for the fabricated curriculum vitae she not only published on the Knesset and Israel Beiteinu Web sites, but about which she repeatedly boasted during interviews. On the contrary, we're probably better off without her presence at the cabinet table. But I find it hard to escape the feeling that had it been someone else's head on the chopping block, the press would have been less eager to wield its axe. The fact that Tartman may have deserved the fate of public humiliation and banishment to the backbenches she never got the chance to leave doesn't alter the fact that she was tried, sentenced and executed by the media. Some might consider this to be a good thing. Democracy's guard dog is finally fulfilling its duty and preventing an undesirable element from being at the center of the nation's decision-making body. Still, it leaves a lingering foul taste in my mouth. Let us consider the evidence at hand. On Sunday night, Channel 2 revealed that Tartman - who is obviously an energetic and industrious public figure - claimed in court that, due to a wide range of physical and mental disabilities sustained in a car accident, which made her incapable of working more than four hours a day, she deserved greater compensation from her insurance company. (In her defense, Tartman says she deserves admiration for overcoming her disability and not allowing it to cripple her.) Even if one accepts the uncharitable view that there is an element of dishonesty in inflating a disability claim, it is well within the societal norm. There are tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Israelis going about there lives - and earning their livelihoods - who have been awarded large sums after claiming serious disabilities. Some of them hold crucial positions in government and the defense establishment. Former prime minister Ariel Sharon is a case in point. Despite his own disability claims for war wounds, he insisted - up until his second debilitating stroke - that he was physically and mentally up to the job of premier. Though Tartman's road injuries may not be comparable to Sharon's war wounds, the principle - and the practice - are the same. Whether you get badly hurt in the army or in civilian life, you go to court to try to get as much money as you can, and then get on with your life. This is not always the most honest process. But Tartman hardly merited the fire-and-brimstone front-page column by Yediot Aharonot's Nahum Barnea calling her the "Enemy of the Disabled." AS FOR embellishing her CV: Yes, she did award herself a BA from Bar-Ilan University, when she had really studied at a private college operating under the academic auspices of Bar-Ilan. And yes, she did claim to have an MA in business administration, when actually she had only signed up for a few advanced courses. Such embellishment on Tartman's part would have been criminal if she had received a salary based on it. But there seems to be no evidence that this was the case. Yet even if it were the case, it would hardly measure up to the corruption charges being leveled at far more senior politicians. Nor are Tartman's inventions all that preposterous when compared to the "flights of fancy" that our leaders seem so prone to. Since when did telling a lie constitute a bar to promotion in Israeli politics? TARTMAN HAS lost her chance of achieving cabinet status. This is no great loss to the nation. She is a liar, and a bad one at that. And the hysterical way she acted at her press conference on Wednesday evening - eerily reminiscent of the Moshe Katsav horror show last month - only proves we're better off without her ministerial contribution. This does not mean, however, that she isn't a victim of double standards. There are no minimum requirements for holding senior office in this country, as the Amir Peretz fiasco at the Defense Ministry proves. (At least in his case, both the political system and the media were quick to point out his total unsuitability.) But in many other cases, there is no scrutiny. Why, for example, has no one thought to ask what experience or qualifications 35-year-old Ariel Attias brings to his job as communications minister, other than a firm friendship with Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's youngest son. Attias, a new Shas MK without any formal academic background and a job history that includes only working for a car-rental agency and heading Shas's kashrut organization, now has to make crucial decisions in one of the most important industries that affects us all. Tartman - even after peeling away the false fa ade she erected - still has more managerial experience than at least half of our current ministers. For all the wailing in the media at how Isaac Herzog was forced to vacate the Tourism Ministry, the few years during which he practiced law and his subsequent career in politics are no guarantee of his being an effective minister. But Herzog is a soft-spoken, well-mannered man - high-born and from the right side of the political tracks - with an acute instinct for steering away from controversy. Everyone has conveniently forgotten the fact that he escaped an indictment by the skin of his teeth, mainly by exercising his right to silence and keeping mum under police interrogation into his role in the allegedly illegal funding of Ehud Barak's 1999 election campaign. The fact of life in politics is that ministerial appointments are a function of power-sharing and patronage, and are handed out with scant regard for prior experience and qualifications. SO WHY was Tartman judged differently? For a number of reasons, among them the fact that she hails from a party which is still regarded with suspicion; her outspoken views and strident statements, considered to border on racism; her outsider status; and probably being a woman had something to do with it. While other junior politicians with an eye on promotion usually conduct themselves with care, she made herself an easy target. Her boss and benefactor, Avigdor Lieberman, is a cagey, thick-skinned operator whom neither police investigations nor media exposes have managed to bring down. So the moment the scent of Tartman's blood was in the water, the sharks began circling around for an easy kill. The weak and inexperienced often pay the price for the sins of the high and mighty. Like American housemaking guru Martha Stewart - who, as part of the backlash following the Enron and other financial scandals, was sentenced to prison over a minor charge of insider trading which netted her a relatively paltry sum - Tartman is paying the price for the Israeli public's ugly mood over the wave of corruption that is washing over our public life. At a time when every other minister is or has been the subject of police investigations, and not one governmental department seems free of corruption and malpractice charges, we shouldn't be surprised that it's open season on lying politicians. Tartman's was an easy scalp. Too easy. Bagging the big-game beasts is much harder. [email protected]