Tzachi Hanegbi is next head of National Security Council

Netanyahu begins to decide on Likud positions.

Then-minister without a portfolio Tzachi Hanegbi catches the ear of then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset in 2016. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
Then-minister without a portfolio Tzachi Hanegbi catches the ear of then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset in 2016.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)

Former Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi will serve as the head of the National Security Council, Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday evening. This is the first announcement of an appointment from the ranks of the Likud to a major position.

Hanegbi has served as a minister in Netanyahu’s cabinet multiple times throughout the years, starting as health minister for a short period in 1996 before going on to serve as justice minister later that year and until 1999. From 2001-2003, he served as environment minister, also taking on the Transportation Ministry portfolio from 2002-2003.

Most recently, Hanegbi served as a minister without portfolio in 2020 and in the now defunct role of community affairs minister from 2020-2021. He placed No. 46 on the Likud list prior to the election in November.

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar (National Unity) congratulated Hanegbi on his appointment, writing on Twitter: “Hanegbi has a lot of experience, consideration, and understanding of the strategic challenges of the country. Good luck!”

Netanyahu is expected to announce on Wednesday what roles Likud MKs will have in the upcoming coalition and government.

 Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Likud MK David (Dudi) Amsalem during a faction meeting, November 19, 2018. (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90) Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Likud MK David (Dudi) Amsalem during a faction meeting, November 19, 2018. (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)

Likud await appointments, Amsalem sits on the side

While the Likud on Tuesday said it had not yet made final decisions, the remaining questions regarding who will be foreign minister and Knesset speaker appeared to be nearing a conclusion at press time Tuesday night. The next Knesset speaker is expected to be MK Amir Ohana, while the next foreign minister is expected to be MK Israel Katz.

Katz is a senior Likud member and was mentioned as a member of an internal Likud group that was applying pressure on Netanyahu during the negotiations. To appease Netanyahu, Katz issued a statement on Tuesday evening against “false media reports about ultimatums and conditions that I supposedly set,” adding that “it is important to stress that appointments of Likud members as ministers is the sole authority of the prime minister, and my friends and I will respect any decision he makes.”

The Foreign Ministry may include a rotation, with former Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, a Netanyahu confidante, taking over after two years. Another option that surfaced on Tuesday was for Dermer to become minister of strategic affairs. The outgoing government dismantled that ministry and placed its authorities under the Foreign Ministry.

MK David Amsalem wrote on Twitter on Tuesday evening that he had not been offered either of the positions he wanted, justice minister or Knesset speaker, and that he would serve as a regular MK. Amsalem, who reportedly has been at odds with Netanyahu in recent months, added that “unfortunately, this is the price that one pays for loyalty and maintaining values.”

Agreements between Likud and UTJ, Shas

Details of the coalition agreement between the Likud and United Torah Judaism were finalized on Tuesday. A crisis erupted between UTJ’s two factions last Wednesday night when Lithuanian Degel Hatorah chairman Moshe Gafni refused to sign the agreement. Gafni reportedly had received a directive not to back down from a demand for Degel Hatorah to have its own rabbinic council on “kosher” cellphones, which would be slightly more lenient than that of the current council.

Degel Hatorah and the hassidic Agudat Yisrael reportedly decided to postpone the issue until after the law to cancel outgoing Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel’s kosher cellphone reform passes its first reading in the Knesset plenum. The reform’s goal was to bar the rabbinic council from controlling which cellphone numbers would belong solely to “kosher” cellphones, thus blocking the council’s ability to monitor who uses a kosher phone.

 BENJAMIN NETANYAHU and Arye Deri – expected to soon become coalition partners – shake hands in the Knesset on Tuesday as current cabinet ministers Benny Gantz, Avigdor Liberman and Merav Michaeli look on. The new government will confiscate more Palestinian land, says the writer (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) BENJAMIN NETANYAHU and Arye Deri – expected to soon become coalition partners – shake hands in the Knesset on Tuesday as current cabinet ministers Benny Gantz, Avigdor Liberman and Merav Michaeli look on. The new government will confiscate more Palestinian land, says the writer (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Shas’s spiritual leadership council, the Council of Torah Sages, on Tuesday said the ministerial positions and Knesset committees that Shas had received in the coalition negotiations would be given in order of the party’s Knesset list.

According to haredi news site Behadrei Haredim, this means that MK Arye Deri will be hold the interior and health portfolios; MK Ya’acov Margi will become the labor, social affairs and social services minister; MK Yoav Ben-Tzur will serve as a minister within Margi’s ministry; MK Michael Malkieli will serve as religious affairs minister; MK Haim Biton will serve as a minister within the Education Ministry; MK Moshe Arbel will serve as deputy interior minister and deputy health minister; MK Uriel Busso will serve as party CEO, chairman of the Knesset Health Committee and deputy Knesset speaker; and MK Yosef Taieb will serve as chairman of the Knesset Education Committee.

The Knesset plenum on Tuesday afternoon began its final debate over a law proposed by incoming National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir that will give him unprecedented control over the Israel Police. The debate was scheduled to continue all night, and the final vote was expected Wednesday morning.

The law is the last out of the four bills the coalition began to expedite through the Knesset approximately three weeks ago, with the intention of signing all of them into law by the government’s ratification in the Knesset, which is scheduled to begin on Wednesday at 11 a.m.

The law anchors the Israel Police’s subordination to the government, as well as the national security minister’s ability to set policy and general principles. It also enables the minister to set policy regarding investigations, after consulting with the attorney-general, the police inspector-general and the officers responsible for investigations.

Two other laws, known as the “Deri Law” and the “Smotrich Law,” both amendments to the Basic Law: The Government, passed into law on Tuesday morning in a 63-55 vote after another all-night filibuster by the soon-to-be opposition.

The Deri Law’s intention is to enable Deri to be appointed as a minister, despite his conviction in January for tax offenses and subsequent suspended jail sentence. Deri resigned from the Knesset before the court determined whether his actions included moral turpitude, which would bar him from serving as a minister for seven years.

According to the law, the decision over moral turpitude would have had to be decided by the Central Elections Committee chairman, Supreme Court Justice Yitzhak Amit. However, the new amendment blocks the decision from reaching Amit by changing the law so that it only applies to actual, and not suspended, jail sentences.

The Smotrich Law is another provision that enables the position of a minister within a ministry. This would enable Religious Zionist Party chairman Bezalel Smotrich to serve as a minister within the Defense Ministry and take over authority over civil issues in the West Bank, including Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories and the Civil Administration

At the end of the plenum, Yariv Levin resigned as Knesset speaker so that he could serve as justice minister. Levin’s resignation will come into effect on Thursday morning, ahead of the plenum session to ratify the new government, which will begin at 11 a.m.

“The Deri Law is more proof of the weakness of Netanyahu opposite his extremist partners,” Yesh Atid wrote on Twitter after the law was passed. “Bibi is weak, and Deri knew he would give in to him just like he gives in to everyone. IDF soldiers, Holocaust survivors and fighting the high cost of living doesn’t matter to them. They don’t have good will to do what’s right for you, Israel’s citizens, but only to make a convicted criminal a minister without being bothered.”

Outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid wrote on Twitter: “Even before it was fully formed, this government will be remembered as the most corrupt of all times. A prime minister on trial for severe crimes, a criminal who was in prison and then convicted again will be appointed to be a senior minister who will be responsible for your money, a criminal who was convicted of supporting a terrorist organization will be appointed to be responsible over the police. Every honest Zionist who loves his country is ashamed of this government.”

Outgoing Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar said contrary to the incoming coalition’s claims that the amendments were a manifestation of the will of the majority as a result of the election, recent polls showed that a large majority of the public opposed them, and the new government was “wasting its credit” even before its formation.

“Two months have passed [since the election], and look what is happening. Instead of excitement over the large victory, every hour the incoming prime minister is publishing an apology, or clarification, or reservation or flik-flak,” he said during the Knesset debate, referring to Netanyahu distancing himself in recent days from comments made by his coalition partners, who condoned discrimination against LGBT in private businesses on religious grounds, and by his son Yair, who called the State Attorney’s Office officials who indicted his father “traitors” and hinted that they should be executed.

Outgoing Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, the Labor leader, wrote on Twitter: “The Netanyahu government is celebrating passing the law that allows a convicted criminal to return to the scene of the crime. Shame. This is Netanyahu’s government: people charged with crimes, people convicted of crimes, homophobes and racists who bring shame on the State of Israel and are taking it down with them. We have to stop them and get the country back on track.”

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel filed an appeal to the High Court of Justice against the law, just two days after it filed a similar appeal against the possibility of Deri becoming a minister regardless of the law.

The law harms the Israeli governing system because it lowers the ethical standard to serve as a minister, all for “prohibited personal considerations, temporary coalition needs and lacking any worthy cause outside of the passing political context,” the movement said in the appeal.

“This is a disgrace, madness and moral tyranny,” said attorney Eliad Shraga, CEO of the Movement for Quality Government in Israel. “It is a black day when the Knesset entered into the State of Israel’s law book a kosher certificate for a convicted felon.

“We woke up to a dark day, in which the members of the apparent coalition acted like thieves in the night and hurried to change a Basic Law in a hasty and retroactive manner, only to allow the criminal Deri to be appointed minister.

“The High Court must intervene and prevent this disgrace, and even cancel the plea agreement made with Arye Deri,” Shraga said.

The High Court on Tuesday said the state had until January 3 at 1 p.m. to file its answer to the appeal. The court said it would then hear the appeal on January 5 in front of an unusually large panel of 11 judges, presumably due to the sensitivity and importance of the case.