Analysis: Absorption the new bastard portfolio

Olmert and Kadima MKs were the big winners of the cabinet reshuffle; with a new minister who doesn't speak English, olim were the losers.

immigrants 88 (photo credit: )
immigrants 88
(photo credit: )
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and six promoted Kadima MKs were the big winners of Wednesday's cabinet reshuffle. Thousands of immigrants were the big losers. A reshuffle that began with Kadima politicians jockeying for position over who would win the coveted Finance portfolio ended with Kadima politicians fighting over who would be stuck with the dreaded Immigrant Absorption portfolio. Former Immigrant Absorption Minister Ze'ev Boim said that contrary to what was written in Thursday's Jerusalem Post, he did not "try to leave the portfolio before to become ambassador to the United States or head of Israel Bonds." His office said that he did not seek those positions and that he had no hand in "baseless rumors" about receiving them. He added that as absorption minister he dealt solely with helping immigrants and not with finding another job for himself. He succeeded Wednesday when Olmert made him construction and housing minister - in what may sound like a lateral move but promoted him from a ministry with a NIS 1.5 billion to a NIS 7 billion budget. When Boim's successor, Ya'acov Edri, heard on television on Monday that he would become immigrant absorption minister, he wrote Olmert an urgent letter begging him to let him remain the minister-without-portfolio in charge of Jerusalem affairs. He only accepted the portfolio when Olmert agreed to also give him the Negev and Galilee Development Ministry. After the Immigrant Absorption Ministry was led for months by Tzipi Livni, who devoted most of her attention to being foreign minister and justice minister at the same time, former prime minister Ariel Sharon promised Kadima voters that the job would go to MK Marina Solodkin, who was placed sixth on the Kadima list. But Olmert left Solodkin out of the cabinet last year, telling her that there was no room for her. Olmert's associates said the reason why he passed Solodkin up again on Wednesday was that she had called for Olmert to be replaced. "I wish the ministers well and I didn't think I would get promoted," Solodkin said. "We broke our promise to the immigrant voters long ago in a sign that Kadima's leaders are not thinking about the party's future, but about how to survive. This isn't the right path to stability. In the immigrant sector, Kadima has become a joke and a mockery. The party is committing collective suicide." MK Zeev Elkin, who is also an Olmert opponent, said that passing up on Solodkin proved his party's leaders "don't care about immigrants." A source close to Olmert rejected the charges, saying that "it's not written anywhere that the immigrant absorption minister has to be an immigrant." "The immigrants need someone who can get things done and that's Ya'acov Edri," the source said. When he was mayor of Or Akiva, Edri was credited with big success in absorbing immigrants in his town. But the wave of immigration from the former Soviet Union has dwindled and immigration from the West is on the rise, creating entirely new challenges. Edri, who understands but does not speak English, will not be able to welcome Nefesh B'Nefesh's planeloads arriving from New York and London this month. His associates said he spoke French and would start studying English soon with a tutor. Boim speaks English and learned how to deal with many issues involving immigrants on the job. But that knowledge will be lost now that he has left the ministry. "All the ministries deal with helping immigrants, not just one," Boim said. "I was proud to serve the immigrants in the Absorption Ministry and now I will help them from the Construction and Housing Ministry. I did everything possible to enhance aliya and help the immigrants, and the public can judge me on my work."