Paz-Pines bids to help athletes, artists [pg. 3]

Colleagues have been asking Ophir Paz-Pines what exactly he will be doing as the new minister-without-portfolio responsible for culture, sports, science and technology. Coincidentally, Paz-Pines said he's been asking the same thing. "This position has been around, in some form, for nearly 20 years," Paz-Pines told The Jerusalem Post from his new Jerusalem offices. "But nobody has bothered to define it." It may his first week on the job, but Paz-Pines has thrown himself into the position. "I want to do something to bridge the gap between the way Israel treats these fields and the way other countries treat their artists," said Paz-Pines. While he said that he could not hope to compete with programs offered to artists, athletes, and academia abroad, he hoped to make Israel a more attractive place for those people to pursue their careers. Next week, Paz-Pines is to conduct a three-day intensive workshop with experts in the fields that relate to his ministry. While he hoped that the meeting would bring new programs to his attention, he admitted that the ministry's budget had been cut heavily over the years and that funds were likely to be slashed further in the 2006 budget. "My focus will be on improving sports and culture programs in elementary schools," said Paz-Pines. "We are not doing enough to encourage talented students to pursue their passions." In many ways, Paz-Pines, said he was raised to hold the ministry. His mother was an artist and his father was a fellow at the Weizmann Institute. Paz-Pines considers himself an athlete, and said he still plays handball with his local league in Herzliya. Despite rumors that he was angry at Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz for not assigning him to a more senior ministry, Paz-Pines said he was satisfied with his current placement. "Sure, I wanted the Justice or Internal Security ministry, but that didn't happen," said Paz-Pines. "But I think I got the optimal position under the circumstances."