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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Estérina Tartman, une ministre controversée

by Valérie Féron

Esterina Tartman: A Controversial Minister

Translated Friday 16 March 2007, by John O’Neil

Israel. This woman’s nomination to the Tourism Ministry consolidates the extreme-right party’s presence in the Israeli coalition government.

Jerusalem, special correspondent.

At first glance, the appointment of a willful glamourous forty-nine year old woman to head the Ministry of Tourism would seem to be a good choice for Ehud Olmert’s motley coalition and for Avigdor Lieberman’s extreme- right Yisrael Beitenu party which is thus consolidating its presence in the government. Esterina Tartman is indeed expected to present Israel’s image to the rest of the world in the most positive way possible hoping to make them forget its darker image: the Palestinian occupation and its resulting repressions. But as the old Arab proverb says: "When you see the teeth of a lion, don’t assume the lion is smiling."

A very controversial personality.

A truly controversial personality lurks behind the new minister’s striking smile, first of all by her affiliation with Yisrael Beitenu, and her statements later denounced as racist following the nomination of Labor Party member Raleb Majadle as Science, Culture and Sports minister, the first Israeli Arab to obtain this high a post. A choice she compared to "a lethal blow to Zionism" that damages "Israel’s character as a Jewish state."

This week the Israeli press reported on an important event from her past: ten years ago Esterina Tartman was in a serious auto accident which made her 52% disabled for life, and she was awarded a million shekels. The court determined that she was incapable of working more than four hours per day because of memory and concentration problems. As a result, the media was wondering how she would fulfill her duties as the head of the Ministry of Tourism. She declared that she is "proud that she does not let the disability impair her functioning."

In addition, the economic press worried about this nomination to such an important post, as the tourism industry is the world’s top employer, it is especially so in Israel. Commentators fear that some European tourist delegations will boycott her and assess that her nomination shows that the Israeli government "still does not regard tourism as having relevant economic weight."

Esterina Tartman is also known for regularly carrying a firearm. This somewhat embarrassing practice likely will not facilitate contacts with potential investors needing to be convinced that Israel is a safe and exciting tourist attraction.

Some revelations about her coursework

The drama continued with revelations on her "diplomas", a Bachelors and Masters degrees she never obtained although they appear on her CV, increasing the anger of the majority of the deputies who must come to a decision about her nomination on 6 March.

Beyond the internal quarrels, in a scathing article Peace Now’s General Director denounced this nomination by concluding that Tartman "portrays the face of the country in the most accurate and clearest manner," namely "an occupying country where racist positions are acceptable and even enjoy proper representation in the government and Knesset; a country whose citizens carry firearms regularly and believe that there is no room for Arabs here."

Published in the 2 March 2007 Edition

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