(photo credit: YOEL LEVI)
United Torah Judaism leader Ya’acov Litzman said on Thursday that he did not care one way or the other whether he would be forced by the High Court of Justice to accept a promotion to health minister from his current role as the deputy minister running the ministry under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The court is expected to rule next week on a petition by Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid to end the practice of deputy ministers running ministries under the prime minister. The practice began in the 1950s when haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties decided they did not want to hold collective responsibility for government decisions that went against Jewish law.
Speaking at a forum of the haredi newspaper Hamodia at Jerusalem’s International Convention Center, Litzman said he would take the court’s decision to his rabbis for a ruling. He did not express opposition to the possibility of becoming a full cabinet minister.
“I don’t understand why they are dealing with my title,” Litzman said. “A man makes a job, and not the other way around. If I run the ministry well, who cares what my title is? In the past, the court thought I was some yeshiva boy who understood health like Lapid understands the Treasury. But now there’s a consensus on my work, and they realize that I work hard and don’t deal with titles.”
Coalition chairman Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) expressed hope that Litzman would not be the only addition to the cabinet. He said he had wanted the deal reached with Yisrael Beytenu on Wednesday, in which that party and the Likud would support each other’s candidates for the Judicial Selection Committee in a July 22 Knesset vote, because it would lead to a greater bond.
“As a coalition, our goal is to expand our ranks,” Hanegbi said. “Yisrael Beytenu is a natural candidate for that. They naturally can’t connect to the agenda of the Left. I would like to see the cooperation as going in that direction, but it’s hard to decipher [party leader Avigdor] Liberman. We would be happy if it leads to Liberman taking ministerial responsibility.”
Liberman, however, appeared to rule out that possibility on a tour of the North with members of his faction, telling reporters that too much had been given to UTJ and Shas in coalition talks.
“I don’t see any possibility of us joining the government without fundamental changes in the coalition agreements with the haredim,” Liberman said.
Hanegbi downplayed an incident on Wednesday in which the coalition narrowly lost a vote in the Knesset – its first loss since the new government was sworn in – due to a parliamentary maneuver by the opposition.
“A record of 216-1 is also a terrific result, and we hope to keep that ratio,” he said, comparing it to a soccer game that went from 7-0 to 7-1.
The High Court reacted Thursday to a petition by Zionist Union MK Erel Margalit, who asked it to cancel a controversial clause in the coalition agreement that prevents coalition MKs from opposing Netanyahu’s policies as communications minister.
The court asked Netanyahu and the coalition to respond to the petition within two weeks.