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amir peretz 298.88.(Photo by: Ariel Jerozolimski)
UTJ's Ravitz: Make Peretz welfare minister
Gil Stern Stern Hoffman
PM has held welfare portfolio since his government was formed four months ago.
Israel has been without a welfare minister for way too long and the time has come to appoint the best man for the job: Defense Minister Amir Peretz, according to former deputy welfare minister Avraham Ravitz (United Torah Judaism), who said this would be his message when he meets with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday. Olmert has been holding the welfare portfolio since his government was formed four months ago in hopes that UTJ would rejoin the coalition and Ravitz would return to the ministry that he headed, without a minister on top of him, in the last government. Wednesday's meeting will likely decide whether Olmert will make a renewed effort to bring UTJ into the coalition or give up on the party and instead give the portfolio to Minister-without-Portfolio Ya'acov Edri, a former mayor of the development town Or Akiva, who has been promised the portfolio if it does not go to UTJ. Ravitz intends to tell Olmert to stop waiting for UTJ, because the Agudat Yisrael faction within UTJ would insist on making drastic changes to the system of child allowances that Olmert would not agree to. He will tell him to appoint a welfare minister immediately, no matter who it is. "There has to be a minister to fight for welfare," Ravitz said. The Welfare Ministry should be the third most important ministry after Defense and Education. Welfare is like the weather. Everyone complains about it and no one does anything about it." To that end, Ravitz suggested adding vast powers and funding to form a new "super-portfolio," which would head a socioeconomic cabinet with real power. The ministry's budget is currently some NIS 3.5 billion without the National Insurance Institute, which acts independently. Much of the ministry's funding and operations have been removed from the ministry in recent years and shifted to the Industry, Trade and Labor; Education, and Immigrant Absorption ministries. "If all the budgets in other ministries for welfare are restored, the Welfare Ministry budget would rise dramatically," Ravitz said. This, according to Ravitz, would make the portfolio lucrative enough for Peretz to leave the Defense Ministry and concentrate on his expertise of helping the poor. "If Peretz would ask me what he should do to save his political career, I would say that he should take this new strengthened ministry," Ravitz said. "There's not a war coming up anyway and there is always welfare. He can enter history as a man who did something very important. This is good for Olmert and for everyone." Olmert's spokesman said that such a super-portfolio was offered to Peretz ahead of the formation of the government and he rejected. He said the prime minister has not gotten around to deciding who will be welfare minister because he was busy with the war in Lebanon and its aftermath. "If Peretz wants to switch ministries, all he has to do is call," an Olmert associate said. Asked whether Peretz would be interested in such a super- portfolio, Peretz's spokeswoman Ronit Eckstein replied that that he "did not have time for nonsense." "Amir will stay defense minister - period, period, period," Eckstein said. Likud activist Yariv Levine petitioned the High Court of Justice last week to force the government to appoint a welfare minister. A judge gave the government a month to reply. Social activist Vikki Knafo made a surprise appearance on Sunday night at a Likud rally hosted by Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu in Sderot. Knafo demonstrated outside Netanyahu's office for several months last year when he was finance minister.
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