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Most of the talk regarding Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's coalition reshuffle this week has been focused on the Justice, Social Affairs and Science portfolios, but Kadima officials said on Wednesday that a new minister of Diaspora Affairs will also be appointed along with other new ministers on Sunday.
The new minister will be Israel's third minister for Diaspora Affairs, following Labor-Meimad MK Rabbi Michael Melchior and former MK Natan Sharansky. The ministry in the past handled such key issues as the fight against anti-Semitism, the restitution of pre-Holocaust assets and the fight for Israel's image on American college campuses.
Melchior led the former ministry as a deputy minister in the Prime Minister's Office until the current government was sworn in last May.
Since then it has remained vacant and its responsibilities gradually distributed among other ministries.
It is still unclear whether the ministry will go to an MK from Labor, Kadima or Israel Beiteinu. MKs in the Labor faction said they would oppose the appointment of an Israel Beiteinu MK to the post due to the party's policies on Israeli Arabs.
One MK even said it would be better to appoint Arab Minister-without-Portfolio Ghaleb Majadle to the post than an Israel Beiteinu MK. A source close to Olmert called that idea ridiculous.
A Kadima official said it was likely that the Diaspora Affairs portfolio would be merged with the Science, Culture and Sports Ministry. Labor continued to insist on Wednesday that it would give up the Science, Culture and Sports portfolio in return for the Social Affairs Ministry but Olmert wants a more senior portfolio from Labor, such as Tourism.
Labor Secretary-General Eitan Cabel, who met with Olmert on Wednesday, told him that there was no reason for Labor to give up a more senior portfolio when in any case the ministry would be given to Israel Beiteinu. Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman said he would accept any operational portfolio as long as it was accompanied by the chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee. Lieberman's spokeswoman said the Diaspora Affairs portfolio met that criteria.
The appointment of an Israel Beiteinu MK as Knesset Finance Committee chairman is expected to be difficult to pass, because the current committee chairman, United Torah Judaism head Ya'acov Litzman, will likely try to resist his removal. Labor MKs on the committee like Shelly Yacimovich may try to block the move.
Olmert invited Israel Beiteinu MKs to his residence for dinner on Wednesday night but MKs present said they did not discuss politics.
Labor officials complained that Olmert has invited the MKs of every faction in the coalition to his home except for Labor.
The prime minister had not decided as of late Wednesday how to distribute the remaining portfolios but his aides said the reshuffle would be brought to a vote at Sunday's cabinet meeting.
A senior Kadima official revealed that one of the reasons an outsider was appointed justice minister was that Olmert wanted to avoid a fight in Kadima over the portfolio that became available when former justice minister Haim Ramon quit. Four Kadima MKs had been expecting a promotion to the cabinet.
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