Analysis: From supermodels to soup kitchens

The media seems to have already formed its opinion of Herzog, and its not a flattering one.

Isaac Herzog made the transition from tourism minister to social affairs minister last weekend when he was stuck at JFK Airport in New York for 10 hours after the cancellation of his flight on the discount airline Jet Blue. On the one hand, he was with disgruntled tourists, but on the other, he was flying with the proletariat on a low-budget airline that doesn't serve meals on flights. It was a small step on the way from attending tourism events in European capitals with supermodels to going to soup kitchens with the downtrodden masses. Herzog's path from the supermodels to the soup kitchens could have been much smoother had he agreed to take the Social Affairs Ministry immediately when he was first offered it three weeks ago. Then it could have looked like a magnanimous gesture on his part to accept the portfolio that he once said was his "dream job." But instead, Herzog left the good life in the Tourism Ministry kicking and screaming, earning the criticism and mockery that caused great damage to his image. When Herzog was at JFK on Friday, he received calls from friends who told him about how the television satire show Eretz Nehederet portrayed him as the love slave of supermodel and recently proclaimed "tourism ambassador" Bar Refaeli. On the show, the dominatrix Refaeli repeatedly whipped Herzog. The media provided its own lashings to the reluctant social affairs minister. In a Ha'aretz cartoon, Herzog was shown shunning an elderly woman on a walker in favor of a supermodel. Yediot Aharonot's headline on a profile of Herzog was no kinder. "I am not that much of a nerd," screamed the headline of the newspaper's feature section atop Herzog's face. So Israel finally has its first social affairs minister and - perhaps no less important - its first Diaspora affairs minister since Zevulun Orlev and Natan Sharansky quit their respective posts to protest the disengagement. But the damage is already done - to Herzog, Labor and the country. The Labor Party that ran on an exclusively socioeconomic platform looks hypocritical for waiting nearly a year to fill the vacancy in the Social Affairs Ministry, which none of its ministers wanted. Labor chairman Amir Peretz could have spared the party the damage by taking the job himself and leaving the Defense Ministry after the war in Lebanon. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert looks no better, even though he made an effort while he was holding the portfolio to bridge the massive gap between the nation's rich and poor. Sources close to Olmert said he grew fond of the portfolio and was reluctant to leave it. But the big losers were the hungry, homeless and handicapped, not to mention millions of Jews around the world, who were neglected for a year without a minister assigned to lobby on their behalf. There is no doubt that Herzog is an appropriate choice for Diaspora affairs minister due to his understanding of and connections with the Jews of the world. His suitability for Social Affairs is more of a question. The natural choice for the job would have been Minister-without-Portfolio Ya'acov Edri, who was promised the job by Olmert and proved himself in 16 years of success as mayor of the development town Or Akiva. Appointing Edri would have been another step in the direction of a more professional government after the appointment of Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann. Herzog grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth as the son of an ambassador, MK and a president. He later became a partner in Israel's most lucrative law firm, Herzog-Fox-Ne'eman. Poverty is something he has never had to worry about. One Labor official even joked that Herzog could relate to the poor just as well as Russian-born billionaire turned socioeconomic movement founder Arkadi Gaydamak. But Gaydamak did not start out with a silver spoon. Still, Herzog does have years of experience dealing with socioeconomic issues as construction and housing minister, cabinet secretary, secretary of the Economic-Social Council and chairman of the anti-drug authority. A source close to Herzog pointed out that Moses was able to be a great leader for a nation of slaves, even though he was raised in Pharaoh's palace. With all the nation's socioeconomic problems on his shoulders, Herzog will need the leadership of Moses to succeed.