In Israel the distinction can be confusing. In addition to Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu, the outgoing 32nd government included vice prime ministers
Moshe Ya’alon and Silvan Shalom for the complete period from March 31, 2009, to
March 2013 and Shaul Mofaz from May 9, 2012, to July 19, 2012. In addition there
were four deputy prime ministers: Ehud Barak, Dan Meridor, Eliyahu Yishai and
until he resigned as foreign minister on December 18, 2012, Avigdor
One may well wonder what the words “vice” and “deputy” mean in
the above context.
The Oxford dictionary makes little if any distinction
between the positions of “deputy” and “vice.” It defines a deputy as a person
whose immediate superior is a senior figure within an organization and who is
empowered to act as a substitute for this superior. The word “vice” is defined
as next in rank to somebody and able to represent them or act for
When used in a particular context however, vice takes on a more
specific meaning. For example the Oxford dictionary defines a vice president as
an official or executive ranking below and deputizing for a president, as in the
vice president of the World Bank. By deputizing, a vice president appears to be
no different from a deputy president.
The dictionary defines “deputize”
as acting or speaking temporarily on behalf of someone else.
IN VIEW of
the possibility that the confusion in distinguishing the between the English
meanings of vice prime minister and deputy prime minister may result from
misinterpretation of the Hebrew titles, it is worth checking the official Hebrew
designations on the government website.
This, however, doesn’t throw much
The web site refers to a vice prime minister as mishneh
le rosh hamemshala
and to a deputy prime minister as segan rosh hamemshala
Babylon translator describes both “segan” and “mishneh” as “vice or deputy.”
(Rosh hamemshala is Hebrew for prime minister
One may expect that a
deputy or vice prime minister is the person who takes the position of acting
prime minister when the prime minister is temporarily or permanently absent in
the same manner as the vice captain of a football team would do. This is the
case in the US where the vice president automatically succeeds the president,
but it is interesting to note that there was not always clarity on this issue
due to ambiguous wording in the Constitution, which does not expressly state
whether the vice president becomes the president or merely acting president on
succeeding the president.
IT WAS not until February 23, 1967, that the
ambiguity was removed by the 25th Amendment which establishes procedures for
filling a vacancy in the offices of the president and vice president.
Britain and Northern Ireland the deputy prime minister (currently Nick Clegg) is
appointed at the discretion of the prime minister and does not automatically
succeed the latter should he be incapacitated or resign.
vice-chancellor acts in place of the chancellor in his/her absence by heading
cabinet meetings, but does not automatically become chancellor for the rest of
the term if the chancellor dies or becomes unable to fulfill his or her duties.
The president asks a minister to fulfill the chancellor’s duties until the
parliament elects a new chancellor.
In Israel the position is clarified
in a note on the government website listing the members of the Knesset, which
note states unambiguously: “The position of deputy or vice prime minister is not
an official job, rather an honorary position.”
Succeeding a prime
minister in Israel does not fall on either a deputy or vice prime minister but
on a third classification, namely acting prime minister, who may be appointed in
terms of clause 5(d) of the Basic Law: The Government (2001). An acting prime
minister, if appointed, takes the place of the prime minister if he or she is
temporarily incapacitated for up to 100 consecutive days while the incumbent is
still in office. If the prime minister dies or becomes permanently
incapacitated, the cabinet appoints an interim prime minister to serve until a
new government is formed. Currently no acting prime minister has been appointed
and unlike vice and deputy prime ministers, there can be only one acting prime
It will be recalled that in 2003, Ariel Sharon appointed Ehud
Olmert as acting prime minister and the latter acted in this capacity following
Sharon’ stroke in 2006 during the election campaign period. When Sharon’s party
won, Olmert continued as acting prime minister and soon thereafter when Sharon
reached 100 consecutive days of incapacitation the interim government elected
Olmert interim prime minister.The writer is a founding member of the
International Coalition of Hasbara Volunteers.
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