Israel's next tourism minister will be neither MK Estherina Tartman nor MK Israel Hasson, but the eighth-place candidate on the Israel Beiteinu Party list - former police deputy inspector-general MK Yitzhak Aharonovich - Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman said Wednesday. It was a surprise announcement following a meeting at the party's Jerusalem headquarters, where Tartman vowed to fight to clear her name following accusations that she lied on her resume about her education and work experience. She accused the press of trying to destroy her career with a "tsunami" of half-truths and twisted facts.
'No change in plans for Tartman'
Lieberman said he saw no reason why she should not be appointed to the cabinet, but Tartman said she preferred to fight from her Knesset seat and not from the cabinet table.
After Tartman removed her candidacy, Lieberman turned to Aharonovich, bypassing Hasson, who is second on the Israel Beiteinu list.
Hasson told associates he was "very disappointed" that he was not given the job. He said not appointing him was a mistake, but he never thought he would get the appointment anyway.
Israel Beiteinu officials suggested Lieberman rejected Hasson because he acted too independently and because he criticized Tartman.
"Days like today make me understand why people say dogs make better friends than people," Hasson said.
Aharonovich, a former Southern District commander, joined the Knesset for the first time last year. He had tourism experience as a former director-general of the Dan bus company.
Lieberman did not say why Aharonovich was chosen. When he chose Tartman on Sunday, he said Hasson would get the next portfolio that became available. When he bypassed him again, he said the same thing.
Israel Beiteinu's attorney, MK David Rotem, said he recommended Aharonovich because he believed that Hasson, as a former deputy head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), would be more appropriate for a different ministry.
Lieberman said he accepted Rotem's advice to allow Tartman to fight a legal battle from outside the cabinet.
"Anyone not manipulating the facts would see that she told the truth the entire time," Lieberman said. "I tried to convince her to stay, but she decided to take time out to be with her family. We respected her decision, even though I see no problem with her being our candidate."
An emotional Tartman said she received more than 1,000 messages of support over the last few days. She displayed her resume, her degree and other documents to prove that she did not lie about her background. But she admitted inaccuracies in statements she made about her past.
"I expressed myself incorrectly," Tartman said. "If I would have said I studied toward a degree instead of saying I had a degree, the entire saga could have been avoided."
Tartman accused the press of trying to bring her down due to her right-wing views. She singled out Channel 2 reporter Amnon Abramovich, who broke the story about her being limited to working four hours a day due to her disability following a car accident. She presented a document that said the limitation only applied to one year, beginning in May 2000.
"One reporter tried to bring me down because of his political views," Tartman said of Abramovich. "A judge was recently discovered to not have a masters degree after she said she did, but she is still a judge. Maybe because the views of the press are the same as hers but not the same as mine. This is a case of blatant character assassination, but I don't intend to cry about it. I will not give up. I intend to win."
To set the record straight, Tartman said her first degree was from a continuing education school run by Touro College, and connected to Bar-Ilan University. She said she had almost completed a second degree at Touro, but never did because of the accident.
In a press conference earlier Wednesday, Lieberman said the press had exaggerated Tartman's problems on a day when it should have focused on the seven Kassam rockets that fell in the Negev and the soldiers still in captivity.
"I agree there was an error in how things were presented [by Tartman], but there has been a complete loss of proportion," Lieberman said. "I have a lot of respect for Estherina. She will be my friend regardless of what is published or whatever developments take place."
Lieberman said the tradition in Israel Beiteinu was "not to abandon friends, even in tough times." He visited Tartman Wednesday afternoon in her home in the settlement of Givon Hahadasha north of Jerusalem.
Prior to her speech Wednesday night, Tartman had revealed that she was in an emotional state when she told the News First Class (NFC) Web site that she could understand what led former minister Avraham Ofer to commit suicide in 1967 amid suspicions of corruption.
"I can now understand what would lead a person in this direction," she said.
Lieberman said he knew Tartman to be a strong and resilient woman, and he hoped she would see her way through the difficult time that she was facing.
Tartman did not attend Knesset committee meetings or the plenum Wednesday, instead remaining in her home with close friends and her children.
Several of Tartman's neighbor's expressed outrage at the media gathered outside her home, and said she was receiving the full support of the community.