Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that he sees no reason to dismiss Interior Minister Eli Yishai or Finance Minster Yuval Steinitz over failures relating to the December 2010 Carmel fire disaster that killed 44 people.
Netanyahu was responding to a petition submitted to the High Court of Justice by families of those killed in the fire to explain why the two ministers were not removed from their posts over shortcomings in the fire service laid bare during the blaze.
Retired Maj. Gen. Zeev Even-Chen, father of the late Topaz Even-Chen Klein, and her widower, Amit Klein, asked the prime minister in June to fire Yishai and Steinitz, and when Netanyahu declined to do so, they petitioned the High Court of Justice in July to demand the prime minister explain why he did not.
The family’s requests came on the heels of the findings of the state comptroller’s report on the 2010 disaster, which were released in June. The report said the bickering between Yishai and Steinitz over funding created a situation in which Israel possessed only 20 tons of fire-suppressant material — some 90 percent less than the emergency minimum — on the eve of the fire.
The state will reportedly ask the High Court of Justice to dismiss the petition by Even-Chen and Klein.
According to government sources, the prime minister has very broad discretion when it comes to firing ministers, and in the past the High Court has only stepped in when the case involved suspected criminal activity or neglect, which was not the case here.
The 500-page report found fault with the police, the Israel Prison Service, the Israeli Fire and Rescue Service and, most vociferously, with the ministers of Interior and Finance, although it stopped short of recommending action against any individuals.
“The failures of the Finance Ministry and the Interior Ministry and their inadequacies are significant, fundamental and severe,” then-State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss wrote at the time.
Following the release of the report, both Yishai and Steinitz blasted the state comptroller’s “baseless” findings and called for a government review.
The state said that the most appropriate response to the Lindenstrauss report is to accept recommendations that will correct the flaws in the Interior and Finance ministries, as well as upgrade the firefighting services. The state claims that these steps are already being implemented.
Mitch Ginsburg contributed to this report.