Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pauses as he delivers a speech at the Jewish Federations of North America 2015 General Assembly in Washington November 10, 2015..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The High Court of Justice on Tuesday appeared to rebuke Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for holding four ministerial portfolios in addition to being prime minister, with Justice Hanan Melcer mockingly asking 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.
The prime minister is also foreign minister, economy minister, communications minister and regional cooperation minister.
Melcer’s attacking question and other attacking comments by the justices were not a decision by the High Court and many observers have expressed doubt that the court can force Netanyahu to give up ministries in light of the vague law on the issue.
The above exchange did not end with Rothshanker’s unapologetic response, as Melcer then jumped in and told her that she was wrong and that there were rules about age for ministers (they have to be at least 20 years old) and that reasonability considerations also had a role to play in whether coalition arrangements were legal.
In other words, even as Melcer might have conceded that the law did not formally prohibit Netanyahu from holding so many ministries, he explained that certain absurdities in coalition arrangements could go too far.
But the other justices, Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, Neal Hendel, Salim Joubran and even Supreme Court Vice President Elyakim Rubinstein, who was on record in 2009 as being critical of a prime minister holding too many portfolios, were more moderate in their views.
Many of the justices noted that applicable legal texts on the issue seemed to send contradictory messages, which along with a history of other prime ministers having held other ministries, made forcing Netanyahu to give up ministries a long-shot.
Blasting Netanyahu, Yesh Atid party chairman Yair Lapid said, “the High Court today expressed grave doubt regarding the ability of the prime minister to continue to hold on to so many portfolios just because of political considerations.”
Lapid went on to declare that “there is no Foreign Ministry” because there is no foreign minister, and lament that he had attended a conference of foreign ministers in Europe in place of Israel’s unfilled foreign minister post.
In August, a related Yesh Atid petition to the High Court did force United Torah Judaism chairman’s Ya’acov Litzman to become the first haredi politician in decades to accept a full ministerial role, agreeing to be promoted from deputy health minister to health minister.
Until then, Ashkenazi haredi politicians for decades had held deputy ministerial positions while de facto controlling their ministries, to avoid the appearance of recognizing the state’s secular nature and to absolve them of the responsibility connected with the state’s secular decisions.