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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Esterina Tartman withdraws candidacy

Following here racist remarks about Arabs, Estherina Tartman had become a national liability. That didn't deter the Olmert government from considering her for a postion in the cabinet. One wonders about the dialog in cabinet meetings featuring Tartman and Arab MK Ghaleb Majadleh, but Olmert and his crew were not dismayed.

However, after it was discovered that she had lied about her university education and collected disability payments, alleging that she can only work four hours a day, a mounting wave of public disgust and ridicule (she was dubbed "Tartarina") brought about the decline of tarty Tartarina Tartman.

Unfortunately, it is not a crime to lie about your education apparently or to make racist remarks about Arabs, so she will keep her Knesset seat.

Last update - 22:05 28/02/2007

Tartman withdraws candidacy for Tourism Ministry amid scandal

By Gideon Alon, Haaretz Correspondent

MK Esterina Tartman (Yisrael Beiteinu) on Wednesday withdrew her candidacy for the post of tourism minister, following recent revelations of her disabled status and false claims about degree qualifications.

MK Yitzhak Aharonovich, and not Esterina Tartman, would run as Yisrael Beiteinu's candidate for the post, party chairman Avigdor Lieberman said Wednesday.

"I tried pleading with Esterina, from my point of view she is a candidate," said Lieberman, after announcing Tartman's decision in a press conference. "She decided to take a break in order to calm her family, her home, and her children. We have respected her will. I see no fault or problem in her decision to continue in her position. We accepted Attorney Dudu Rotem's proposal to presentAharonovich's candidacy."

Tartman blamed the media for bringing her down and adding her to the growing list of Israeli politicians mired in scandal. Party leader Avigdor Lieberman said he stood by her but respected her decision to withdraw. "I will not be broken by the media," she told a news conference, with Lieberman at her side.

Tartman told a press conference Wednesday night, "In the past few days, I have found myself in the center of a journey of incitement, ugly slander, half-truths and distortion of facts, and all in order to harm me and my good name. However, I did not break, even though m yspirit was within touch of death."

"Not once and not twice was I there," she said, referring to the unraveling of allegations against her over the last few days.

Only hours earlier, Lieberman had said that Tartman was Yisrael Beiteinu's sole candidate for the post of tourism minister.

The Yisrael Beiteinu leader slammed the media for "inflating" the issue of Tartman's false claims, saying that the media has become a "dictatorship." As far as he is concerned, the minister and party chairman said, the matter is "behind us."

The comments come after revelations that Tartman, the Tourism-Minister designate, does not hold a bachelor's degree from Bar-Ilan University or a master's degree from a Jerusalem institute, despite claims on her curriculum vitae.

"Nobody can cast doubt on our credibility," Lieberman said. "Yisrael Beiteinu is not the Shin Bet or the Civil Service Commission. I don't subject candidates to polygraph or security test."

"Sometimes mistakes happen, [but] there is loss of proportion here and intoxication on the part of the media," he said.

Tartman told the News First Class website earlier Wednesday that she didnot intend to relinquish the position of tourism minister. She also said she holds a bachelor's degree from Touro College and that she is studying for a master's degree.

Tartman told the website that she can understand what led former minister Avraham Ofer to commit suicide in 1977 amid suspicions of corruption.

"A person says unnecessary things sometimes in the heat of things," Lieberman said. "We are not rushing her anywhere. I didn't hasten my return from Russia and we aren't hiding."

Meanwhile, Tartman made preparations Tuesday for assuming the position of tourism minister, meeting with outgoing Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog. An assistant was scheduled to meet with the deputy director general of the Tourism Ministry, but the meeting was canceled.

Lieberman said he spoke with Tartman on Tuesday and Wednesday, and that "I have seen things that are completely unreasonable from the journalists' side. Keep things in proportion, guys, the soldiers are still in the field, and the Iranian nuclear bomb is still our foremost problem."

Members of the Yisrael Beiteinu Knesset faction on Tuesday expressed their "surprise and concern" at the revelations, but have refrained from issuing an official statement.

Tartman did not appear in the Knesset on Wednesday, and she was unavailable for comment throughout most of the day.

The Prime Minister's Office called the appointment "problematic" but said it would not intervene in the faction's internal matters.

"There is no known precedent in which the prime minister told another party who will be its minister," a statement from the office said.

Nonetheless, officials close to Olmert say they expected Lieberman to forestall further embarrassment and to ask Tartman to pass on the position.

In response to a request for a comment from Haaretz, a spokeswoman for Tartman said that the MK has decided not to respond to any questions on the matter at this time.

A probe by Yedioth Aharonoth into university records dating back to 1977 showed that Tartman was never a registered student nor has she ever completed studies there that would have awarded her a B.A.

It appears that Tartman had taken courses at the Center for In-Service Training, a private firm specializing in such programs. The courses are not academic and are not part of a B.A. program.

Yisrael Beitenu's Web site stated that Tartman holds "a graduate degree in economics and marketing from Hebrew University."

The Knesset Web site stated that Tartman holds an MBA with a specialization in management and marketing from the university in Jerusalem. An inquiry at the university showed that Tartman has never studied at that institution.

Once Yedioth Aharonoth reporters began their probe, however, the statement on the party's Web site was altered to say that Tartman had undertaken "graduate studies in business administration in Jerusalem." By Tuesday night, the mention of "Jerusalem" had also been removed.

Party officials said that one of the activists had made an honest mistake and wrote that Tartman is a graduate of Hebrew University, even though she had never made such claims.

But it is not only the Yisrael Beitenu activists who erred about Tartman's academic credentials. In an interview on the Knesset channel, after she was designated tourism minister, Tartman explained the reasons for which she was qualified for the job.

"Every minister needs to be knowledgeable in budgetary issues. I come with a management background... and a clear background in economics: I have a B.A. in accounting and finance, and an MBA."

Her academic credentials were also mentioned in the trial in which she sued for compensation for damages she suffered during a traffic accident a decade ago. The ruling, which appears to be based on her deposition, states that Tartman studied at Touro College in Jerusalem and received an academic degree with distinction, but does not specify whether this was a bachelor's or graduate degree.

Until recently Touro College was an extension of the New York-based institution and trained students mostly in Judaic studies.

Now the institution is a registered college in Jerusalem under the name of Lander Institute. However it is not authorized to confer MBAs.

An inquiry with the Council for Higher Learning showed that even when it was operating as Touro College the institution did not offer graduate degrees in business administration.

The Lander Institute refused to respond to Haaretz inquiries into the matter.

In an interview with Haaretz journalist Ari Shavit, aired on the Knesset channel, Tartman claimed that her ability to concentrate and her memory were harmed by the injuries suffered in the accident.

On Tuesday, the Knesset Ethics Committee decided not to take any steps against Tartman, despite harsh statements she previously made against Israeli Arabs and the ministerial appointment of Ghaleb Majadele.

The committee decided that despite the severity of Tartman's statements, there was no room for dealing with the matter any further on grounds that what she said constituted a personal worldview and did not undermine the Knesset, or its members.

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