Ex-Sharon aide named Absorption dir.-gen.

The cabinet voted on Sunday to appoint former prime minister Ariel Sharon's political adviser Erez Halfon as director-general of the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, in a move that sparked protest from Russian immigrant MKs. Halfon, 35, does not speak Russian but he deals with issues related to immigrant absorption as the prime minister's liaison to local authorities. He has a degree in social science and communication from Bar-Ilan University, is getting a law degree and served as a deputy director general of a security firm before starting to work for Sharon in 1998. One of Sharon's closest advisers, Halfon coordinated Sharon's events, tours and conventions and acted as a liaison to local authorities, the Likud central committee and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) officials protecting the prime minister. When Olmert was elected, Halfon continued to coordinate the prime minister's tours around the country and he was seen in the background during Olmert's recent visits to IDF bases and the naval ship Hanit. "I will use my experience at the Prime Minister's Office to advance aliya and help immigrants as much as I can," Halfon said. Former immigrant absorption minister Yuli Edelstein (Likud) said it was unfortunate that an immigrant was not chosen for the position to replace Mirla Gal, who was a former immigrant activist who had admitted to serving as a spy for the Mossad in Russia. Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman said that by appointing Halfon, Olmert sent a statement to Russian immigrants that he and Kadima do not care about their plight. He said the move was especially disappointing because it followed the appointment of Ze'ev Boim as immigrant absorption minister, a position that was expected to go to Kadima MK Marina Solodkin, a veteran activist for Russian immigrants. "Halfon's appointment is further proof that the prime minister has abandoned the entire issue of immigrant absorption," Lieberman said. "The appointment of a man who has never been involved in immigrant absorption issues shows that he is continuing in the mistaken tradition of rewarding political activists to top positions in cabinet ministries with no connection to their skills or their understanding of the issues of the ministry." Environment Minister Gideon Ezra appointed former general Shai Avital as the director-general of his ministry last week after Avi Karampa was disqualified. Both Avital and Karampa were on Kadima's Knesset list. Former Sharon aides Lior Shilat and Mirit Danon were recently appointed to head departments in the Prime Minister's Office. But Solodkin welcomed the appointment. She said that the main qualification necessary for a director-general was having the connections necessary to advance the ministry's issues with the powers-that-be. "Minorities have no power or connections and they need them," Solodkin said. "It's important to have connections and Erez Halfon has them."