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MADONNA CASHIERS AMBASSADOR?

American Singer Stars In Diplomatic Brouhaha

Foreign Minister Shalom Plans To Fire Israel's Ambassador To U.S. Over Affair

Madonna

Even in the hurly-burly of Israel's tempestuous politics, the latest scandal is something else. This is the cast: Madonna, the American super star, Judy the wife of Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Israel's Ambassador to Washington Danny Ayalon and his wife Anne. Only the zaniest Hollywood producer could dream up this 'Only in Israel' caper. But it's true; this is the story that has dominated Israel's headlines over the past two days.

Madonna will apparently be responsible for the firing of Israel's Ambassador to Washington Danny Ayalon! No, this is no joke. It all started when the super-star recently paid a whirlwind visit to Israel as part of her Kabbalah studies. Well, Judy Nir Shalom the wife of Foreign minister Silvan Shalom, apparently had her heart set on her being photographed with Madonna. But alas! An aide to Ambassador Ayalon was not able to deliver.

FM Silvan Shalom and his wife Judy

Judy, a well-known radio and TV personality, apparently hit the roof. The result is that the aide, who is considered to be a twenty-four year old whiz, is being fired by Foreign Minister Shalom. (The official reason was that his three-year contract has expired.) Moreover, Shalom is apparently gunning for the Ambassador himself. A Civil Service investigator has been to Washington to investigate allegations by some of the embassy staff that the Ambassador's wife Anne has ridden rough-shod over them. The plot thickens; Ambassador Ayalon has pre-empted by sending an official protest to the Attorney General accusing his boss the Foreign Minister of behaving inappropriately. Ayalon reportedly has wire-taps of telephone calls to back up his side of the story. Everyone is waiting to see the investigator's report.

Tip of the Iceberg: There is of course more than meets the eye to this cock-eyed episode that would probably be rejected as too implausible even for a zany sit-com.

Ambassador Ayalon: He is a former close aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and considered to be highly successful. It is said that he is one of the few foreign ambassadors in Washington who can pick up the phone and call Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Sharon conducts relations with the Bush Administration directly through the Ambassador and his Jerusalem point man Dov Weisglass. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom is left out of the loop when it comes to Jerusalem's top foreign policy lane. He is of course, the Ambassador's immediate boss, but this cuts no ice when it comes to the Sharon-Ayalon hotline. The Foreign Minister who has aspirations to run for the Likud party leadership obviously fumes over being shunted aside and has apparently decided to rebel; the Madonna affair has apparently presented the pretext. Why now? Possibly because another Likud contender, Finance Minister Bibi Netanyahu has been rebelling more recently over Sharon's disengagement plan. Not to be viewed as a wimp, Silvan Shalom may also be taking a poke at the Prime Minister who is in hot water within the Likud party over the withdrawal.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon

Sharon's Reaction: So far, there is none. The PM's office is staying mum as if this is a Foreign Ministry affair, even though Ayalon was appointed by the Prime Minister to be HIS man in Washington. At the outset of the disengagement controversy, Foreign Minister Shalom opposed it. But now Shalom lends Sharon more or less tacit backing for the evacuation. The Prime Minister appears leery of driving Shalom into the anti-disengagement camp at this sensitive stage just a couple of months before the withdrawal. Shalom enjoys popularity in the Likud's central committee and could make a lot of trouble for the PM. So Ayalon's chances of surviving the Shalom couple's wrath don't look too good.

Likud Feuds: This is only one of the juicy feuds now raging in the ruling Likud party. Two other future party candidates have been going at it tooth and nail. Trade and Industry Minister Ehud Olmert calls Finance Minister Bibi Netanyahu corrupt and mentally unbalanced while Netanyahu's people call Olmert a washed-up, two-bit politician. Netanyahu and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz have also traded broadsides. Who gains from all this Likud back-biting, the Labor Party? Not necessarily; it's Prime Minister Sharon who can sit back and appear the respectable and prudent leader above the din of those squabbling and jockeying for position for his job that Sharon has no intention of giving up anytime soon. As for Labor, it still appears as lack-luster with a long way to go before making up the ground it lost with the Israeli public over the Oslo process.

Stay tuned for the next episode!

David Essing

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