Another Tack: Appointments from hell

The Peace Now rookie at the Defense Ministry signals Israel's enemies that we're loath to take up arms.

Our latest government finally confirmed my long-standing suspicion that we're in hell - hell being the opposite of anything reasonable, expected, just or effective. That's why in the old axiomatic adage heaven is where the French do the cooking, the Germans do the repairs, the Swiss run the government, the English are the policemen and the Italians are the lovers. Hell is where the French do repairs, Germans are the policemen, the English do the cooking, Italians run the government and the Swiss are the lovers. Ehud Olmert clearly resorted to hellish blueprints when putting together his government. How else can one explain the phenomena (to name just a few) of trade-union agitator Amir Peretz as defense minister, Fidel Castro's millionaire buddy Rafi Eitan as old-age pensions dispenser, his Shas master's voice Eli Yishai as the czar of Commerce and Industry, linguistically challenged Tzipi Livni as our No. 1 diplomat, Meshulam Nahari as an indispensable adjunct in the Treasury and, of course, the unequivocally experienced Olmert conducting this curious cast? We can all sleep soundly with a Peace Now rookie in the Defense Ministry signaling Israel's mortal enemies - from Hamas to Ahmadinejad - that we will be loath to take up arms; with shady ex-spymaster Eitan (Pollard's manipulator) assuring us that he'll keep an eye on Peretz to ascertain nothing goes awry; with a populist welfare extortionist facilitating big-business prosperity; with an opportunist overnight political starlet putting Israel's case to the world in Sabra pidgin English, and with Yossi Sarid's erstwhile unwanted Education Ministry appendage now offering his equally invaluable input to the national financial management. CAN WE seriously derive comfort from the promise that the man who brewed this concoction will be there to possibly offset any damage that members of his inept crew may cause? Is Olmert any more competent than Peretz to oversee Israel's defense at a time of truly unprecedented dangers? The fact that he plans to divest this vulnerable state of more vital strategic assets, and appease implacable foes (who escalate their genocidal threats) with yet more gratuitous territorial gifts might cast doubt on Olmert's adequacy as Peretz's potential counterbalance - particularly when the topmost IDF generals are so eager to further their own career prospects and curry favor with the political powers-that-be. This has nothing to do with the red-herring issue of whether the defense minister can be a civilian with no military past. Of course he can. The question is who that civilian is and what his policies are. Do we wish to entrust our fate to the hands of the civilian who spent his life downplaying Israel's existential perils, recommending they take a backseat to his socioeconomic agenda? His demagoguery, moreover, didn't prevent Peretz from betraying said agenda, for whose sake he professed to seek votes. Equally treacherous was Yishai, who tempted voters away from the Likud by vowing to oppose further unilateral withdrawals. While superficially he didn't commit to Olmert's "convergence," in essence his participation in Kadima's coalition will generate inexorable momentum for plans to expel 100,000 settlers, just as Sharon's weak-willed partners prevented nipping "disengagement" in the bud. Ostensible anti-retreat parties who hook up with Olmert can claim no alibi - they're accessories-before-the-fact. To be fair, though Olmert outdid previous premiers, he isn't the first to make appointments from hell. Remember mild-mannered highbrow professor Shlomo Ben-Ami as Ehud Barak's internal security minister? His tenure indeed turned out to have been a very predictable disaster. And who can forget Silvan Shalom as Sharon's finance minister? When even Sharon couldn't abide the imminent economic collapse, he added insult to injury by designating the same bungling Silvan as foreign minister. His English was only marginally superior to Tzipi's. Taking a cue from his two immediate predecessors, Olmert too inflated his ministerial roll. That's why we'll be obliged to foot the bill for such portfolio-less sinecures as minister in charge of the Broadcasting Authority (Labor's Eitan Cabel) or Ophir Paz-Pines's Culture, Sport, Jerusalem, Science and Technology mishmash. It's almost as if Olmert's cabinet were designed by the scriptwriters who brought us the immortal comedy Yes, Minister. That show's protagonist held the meaningless office of Minister for Administrative Affairs, and neither he nor anyone around him worked out what his brief was, except to snarl more red tape. Olmert's spendthrift inventiveness contrived ministries no one would miss if they'd never been dreamed up. They're patently as unnecessary as Shulamit Aloni's 1993 Science and Arts, which was soon renamed Science and Technology. The change remained as enigmatic as her ministry's purpose under either appellation. It was as forgettable as the Economy Ministry that Yossi Beilin ran and, to his credit, abolished, leaving no vacuum in its absence. The now-powerful and much sought-after Infrastructure portfolio was custom-stitched for Sharon. The country somehow managed without it till then. This plethora of superfluous portfolios isn't mandated by objective need, but constitutes political coin with which coalition support is purchased - at our expense. Tourism wasn't badly served via the Commerce and Industry framework, Internal Security was none the worse when operated by the Interior Ministry. Ministerial categories for Strategic Dialogue, Retirees, Jerusalem, Galilee, Negev, Diaspora, Regional Cooperation, Culture, Sport, Science, Communications and Environment shouldn't altogether exist as even theoretical independent entities. Such creative innovations flourish and proliferate only because our electorate obviously approves of a local version of the hell in which the French repair, the Germans police, the English cook, the Italians govern and the Swiss romance. Here Olmert, Peretz and Eitan keep us safe.