Analysis: The right touch abroad

Tartman, who has a background in management, banking and labor-relations, has at least as good a chance of succeeding as Herzog.

mk tartman 298.88 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
mk tartman 298.88 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Veterans at the Tourism Ministry looked on with amusement over the last few weeks at the growing saga engulfing their minister's office. They're used to abrupt changes. Over the last decade, they've seen 10 changes of ministers. A member of the far-right as minister is also not a novelty for them. The late Rehavam Ze'evi, father of the "transfer" movement, was tourism minister until Palestinian assassins overtook him in the Jerusalem Hyatt Hotel. Rabbis Benny Elon and Yitzhak Levy were next in line. So Tourism Ministry workers remain unfazed by newcomer Estherina Tartman. They've seen it all. "As strange as it may sound," says a former senior adviser to two tourism ministers, "it doesn't really matter what the political colors of the minister are, it's much more important for him to be a good administrator. The minister might go to a lot of international travel conferences. That doesn't mean he's an ambassador." At the end of the day, the tourism sector is another industry, and Tartman, who has a reasonable background in management, banking and labor-relations, has at least as good a chance of succeeding as her predecessor, Isaac Herzog, who had none of those. But what about her strident views on Israeli Arabs? Won't that create an image problem for her when she goes abroad? "I've never seen the political background of the minister having much effect," says the senior adviser. "If anything, they tend to cleave towards the mainstream on the job. Ministers from the Left find themselves defending Israel's policies strenuously and the rightists suddenly sound much more balanced and considerate when they are explaining themselves in English." And besides, who says that the tourism minister has to project a liberal-lefty, peace and love image? Herzog might have believed that showing pictures of supermodel Bar Raphaeli at pristine beaches and trendy Tel Aviv night clubs would bring in the kind of tourists he would like to see here, but many others in the industry believe that the main growth areas of Israeli tourism are elsewhere. A good portion of the trade comes from internal tourism, Israelis who know exactly what Eilat looks like and just want a good package deal and some value for their money. From abroad, the majority of visitors are still here for family or religious reasons, and if there's one sector with huge potential, it's the Evangelical Christians, who are, if anything, to the right of Tartman. It's not that a politician can't put his agenda to play in the Tourism Ministry. The minister can decide on where to put the budget's emphasis, shifting funds, for example, away from projects in the Arab and Beduin sectors and into tourism infrastructure around settlements in the West Bank. The Tourism Ministry can also do a great deal through the Company for the Development of East Jerusalem which it controls. Tartman might do a bit of that but, above all, she will be eager to prove herself as being capable of holding real responsibility. Israel Beiteinu Leader Avigdor Lieberman, who endorsed Tartman for the job, choosing her instead of his nominal No. 2, Yisrael Hasson, sees his party one day - not so far off - becoming the main party of power. To do that he realizes that he and his colleagues must appeal to the mainstream. Tartman will have orders, now that she's a minister, to cut down on the provocative statements and show everyone she's a real pro. The Tourism Ministry can be the place to do that.