Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) attends a meeting of the Likud party in the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Only a week after the High Court of Justice brought on Benjamin Netanyahu’s ire by striking down his prized natural gas policy, the same court backed the prime minister on Wednesday concerning the question of the legality of holding multiple ministerial portfolios.
But here too Netanyahu felt the court’s stricture. With one dissenting vote, three of the four justices who supported Netanyahu on the issue said that they might rule differently if he tries to hold on to too many ministries indefinitely – for example for more than eight more months.
The ruling comes as a relief for Netanyahu after a November hearing in which he was hit with significant criticism by the High Court on the issue.
At the time, the court appeared to rebuke Netanyahu for holding four ministerial portfolios in addition to being prime minister. Justice Hanan Melcer mockingly asked the state’s lawyers if “the prime minister could hold all of the ministerial positions?” In a memorable exchange, state attorney Sharon Rothshanker replied, “Yes. Just as the law is silent about whether a child can be appointed a minister. There are no rules about this.”
The heated exchange came at a second hearing of Yesh Atid’s petition, filed in July, to declare special arrangements in the current government, including Netanyahu holding multiple ministries, unconstitutional.
Many observers have expressed doubt that the court can formally force Netanyahu to give up ministries in light of the currently vague law on the issue.
Melcer was ultimately the only justice who voted against Netanyahu holding so many portfolios, with Supreme Court President Miriam Naor giving him a relatively free hand, and justices Elyakim Rubinstein, Neal Hendel and Melcer all hinting that they might rule against the prime minister if the situation continued for an extended period. Justice Salim Joubran voted with Naor, but zigzagged on how long Netanyahu could hold onto his multiple portfolios, making it unclear how he would vote if the issue were raised again in several months.
Naor and Joubran also commented that Yesh Atid had challenged Netanyahu’s authority, not the reasonableness of his actions, and that if a new petition was filed on that issue, they would need to give him a chance to respond to that new argument.
Yesh Atid said it respects the Supreme Court’s decision, even if it rejected their petition.
However, the party added, “on the political level, citizens of Israel must decide themselves if this is a reasonable situation in their eyes, that the country does not have a foreign minister, economy minister, communications minister or regional cooperation minister, and whether they think the prime minister can fulfill all of those jobs at once and give them the service they deserve.”
In November, Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid slammed Netanyahu, saying that he is holding on to “so many portfolios just because of political considerations.”
Lapid declared “There is no Foreign Ministry” because there is no foreign minister, and lamented that he had attended a conference of foreign ministers in Europe in place of Israel’s unfilled foreign minister post.
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.