Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not have to give up the Foreign Ministry or the other portfolios he holds despite a landmark statement by a Supreme Court judge, Likud officials said on Tuesday.
Justice Hanan Melcer, a former legal adviser to the Labor Party, told the state that Netanyahu cannot keep the ministries he currently holds without revising the law. The statement, which was not a final decision and had no immediate legal consequences, was made at a hearing of petitions filed by Yesh Atid.
When he formed his government in May, Netanyahu kept for himself the Foreign Affairs, Communications, Health and Regional Cooperation portfolios.
Having to allocate those portfolios could cause him major political problems.
But coalition chairman Tzachi Hanegbi said, if necessary, the matter could be resolved by amending coalition agreements and passing technical bills in the Knesset, not by appointing new ministers.
“I hope the court won’t end the 67-year-old practice of the prime minister holding additional portfolios,” Hanegbi told Israel Radio. “If that means changing the law to fix a loophole, that is definitely possible. We will wait for the final ruling of the court.”
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, the ministerial liaison to the Knesset, expressed outrage at Melcer’s statement, accusing him of overstepping the bounds of the Supreme Court.
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“The intervention of the court contradicts what governments of Israel have done for generations, since the time of David Ben-Gurion,” Levin said. “The court does not legislate and any change in the current legal situation can only be made by the Knesset, and acting otherwise would constitute crossing yet another redline in the relations between the branches.”
The court gave Yesh Atid until Sunday to add complaints against the prime minister to its initial petition, which addressed only the special case of United Torah Judaism chairman Ya’acov Litzman running the Health Ministry as a deputy minister under Netanyahu. Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid told reporters at a press conference in Tel Aviv the petition would indeed be expanded.
“What the Supreme Court reminded us today is that the government of Israel must work for us,” Lapid said. “They are not there to get politicians a job or solve the prime minister’s political problems. Ministers have to work for us full time.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog praised the court, saying “the prime minister is breaking the law and should not be allowed to function this way.”
His Zionist Union No. 2, MK Tzipi Livni, expressed hope that the court would force the appointment of a communications minister and “end the process of the prime minister of democratic Israel becoming a one-man ruler with no limits or oversight.”
UTJ MK Israel Eichler told Israel Radio that if the court rules Litzman must be appointed a minister, his party’s rabbis would acquiesce. The party has not accepted ministerial roles in decades to avoid accepting collective responsibility for government decisions that go against Jewish law. Eichler protested Melcer’s view on the prime minister holding portfolios.
“The courts have no right to decide who should be a minister,” Eichler said. “That must be decided by 120 MKs. This is another example of the courts taking power for themselves that belongs to the parliament.”
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