Reality Check: Yishai a serial incompetent

As interior minister, Yishai holds direct responsibility for the state of the country’s firefighting units.

Lindenstrauss and Rivlin 311 (photo credit: Marc Sellem Israel/The Jerusalem Post)
Lindenstrauss and Rivlin 311
(photo credit: Marc Sellem Israel/The Jerusalem Post)
On Wednesday, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss is due to publish his report on the Mount Carmel fire which, were Shas leader Eli Yishai to possess any sense of shame and personal responsibility, should spell the end of his tenure as interior minister.
The report is expected to hold Yishai, along with Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, as bearing a “special responsibility” for the firefighting failure a year-and-a-half ago, in which 44 people lost their lives. As interior minister, Yishai holds direct responsibility for the state of the country’s firefighting units.
According the state comptroller’s draft report, Yishai not only failed to extract the necessary budget from the Treasury to expand the firefighters’ resources to match the country’s real needs, he also ignored the need to scrutinize the firefighters’ operational capabilities and training and failed to initiate much-needed changes in the service.
Even though Yishai knew the state of the Fire and Rescue Services was, in his own words, “a catastrophe,” the minister was too glued to his cabinet seat to even threaten to resign over the Treasury’s refusal to allocate the necessary funds. Nor did he consider shifting around other ministerial funds to prevent what, in retrospect, was a disaster waiting to happen. In other countries, this alone would be enough to demand Yishai’s resignation.
But Yishai has made it clear he has no intentions of going, and it is extremely doubtful that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who starred in his own state comptroller’s report last week, and is due for some more criticism in this one too, will have the political courage to do the right thing and demand Yishai’s head.
TRUTH BE TOLD, Yishai is a serial ministerial incompetent who deserves to be banished from public life. At the moment, Yishai is basking in the spotlight as his immigration police conduct a brutal hunt for migrant workers, despite the fact that it is Yishai himself who bears much of the responsibility for the large-scale arrival of migrant workers that he is so quick to condemn in racist, rabble-rousing terms.
The first wave of migrants entered the country when Yishai was industry and trade minister in Ehud Olmert’s government, working legally under permits issued by his office. Not surprisingly, these workers encouraged their family and friends to join them here.
Once he became interior minister in the present government, Yishai became responsible for controlling the country’s borders and, as such, has been a total failure. In a recent article in Yediot Aharanot, ex-premier Olmert pointed out that the wave of migrant workers during his term of office reached a peak of 9,300 in 2008, before falling to 5,300 a year later following steps taken by his government. Since then, and since Yishai has been in charge of the borders, the number of migrant workers entering the country has spiked dramatically, reaching around 30,000 people for the years 2010 and 2011.
THERE IS no easy solution to the problem of migrant workers from Africa, and Israel is not the only country in the Western world grappling with this issue. One would have thought, however, that Israel, whose Jewish character Yishai is so zealous about protecting, would show more sensitivity in its treatment of these people, given our own history of fleeing persecution and economic misery.
But no. Recycling some of the motifs of the darkest years of the past century, Yishai first of all labeled African workers as carriers of disease, telling a Channel 2 program: “If hundreds of thousands of migrant workers come here now, they will bring with them a profusion of diseases: hepatitis, measles, tuberculosis, AIDS and drug [addiction].”
That was back in the autumn of 2009. Today, given that Israel hasn’t fallen foul to the black plague, Yishai has changed track, now warning of the dangers to the “kosher daughters of Israel” who have called his office to report being raped by African workers. The Nazi propaganda tabloid Der Sturmer also specialized in reporting tales of crimes against Aryan women and girls by the “evil, disgusting, no-good Jews!” Last week’s humiliating roundup of Sudanese workers, in which the press were invited to film frightened families being roused from their homes and sent to detention before their deportation, has certainly not helped Israel’s self-proclaimed mission of being “a light unto the nations.” The despicable publicity stunt might help Yishai’s standing among the more racist elements of Israeli society, but it will do nothing to alter the fundamental problem of migrant workers.
Despite Yishai’s frothing at the mouth, the majority of the 60,000 Africans in the country are here to stay, unless another country can be found willing to take them. Over half the Africans (34,000 according to Population and Immigration Authority figures) are from Eritrea, and cannot be sent back there due the harm likely to befall them on their return. The Sudanese migrants in Israel also cannot be deported, leaving only around 2,500 Africans from South Sudan and the Ivory Coast eligible for expulsion.
But just as in the case of the rundown fire service, Yishai has never let the facts contradict his own misguided and negligent sense of ministerial responsibility.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.