Yuli Edelstein accepts Health Ministry portfolio

Most portfolios to be distributed Wednesday

Yuli Edelstein (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Yuli Edelstein
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Former Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein accepted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s invitation to serve as health minister on Tuesday evening.
Edelstein (Likud) met earlier Tuesday with Netanyahu, who offered him the post and also gave him the option of the Education Ministry, which he offered him last week. In that meeting, Edelstein only agreed to return to his former post of Knesset speaker, but Blue and White vetoed him for the post.
“I am happy that Edelstein accepted my offer and chose this senior portfolio dealing with a critical challenge for Israel,” Netanyahu said.
Edelstein said after serving the people of Israel for seven years as Knesset speaker, he decided the best way to continue serving them would be to “lead the struggle against the coronavirus and prepare the health system for the new challenges.”
Netanyahu promised Edelstein a budget increase in the ministry, unlike other ministries, including Education, which will face budget cuts. It is expected that Edelstein will select a new director-general from the healthcare arena. But he likely will retain director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov, who resigned on Tuesday, until a proper transition can be made.
It is understood that Edelstein will not have much time to learn on the job, because a second wave of the virus is expected even by earlier winter. Netanyahu sees the Health Ministry and preparing for any second coronavirus wave as a top priority.
Following Edelstein’s decision, Netanyahu can proceed with more appointments in Likud. Tourism Minister Yariv Levin will replace Edelstein as Knesset speaker. Justice Minister Amir Ohana is expected to replace Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who will be Israel’s ambassador in the United Nations and starting in November, in Washington.
Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev is expected to get the Transportation portfolio.
Channel 12 reported that Netanyahu offered Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz the Education Ministry, but spokespeople for Netanyahu and Steinitz could not confirm the report.
Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin is expected to keep his post. Diaspora Affairs Minister Tzipi Hotovely will shift to the Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage portfolio that Elkin will give up. She will be replaced by Blue and White MK Omer Yankelevich. More portfolios will be given out on Wednesday by Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, who formally quit his post as Knesset speaker on Tuesday night to facilitate the formation of a government by Thursday.
Edelstein will replace Ya’acov Litzman, who will shift to the Construction and Housing Ministry. Litzman praised Edelstein’s appointment, calling him “fit for this important and challenging post.” He said he looked forward to handing over the post in an organized manner.
Meretz faction chairwoman Tamar Zandberg called the appointment shameful and slammed Gantz for not obtaining the portfolio for his party.
Yamina, whose leader, Naftali Bennett, requested the portfolio, said Netanyahu “slammed the door, preventing the party from entering the government.” The party noted that Edelstein never even asked for the post.
“He searched for the perfect way to humiliate Yamina and its voters, and he succeeded,” a Yamina spokesman said.
In a video statement he posted on Tuesday night, Netanyahu said Yamina asked for four senior posts for six MKs. Netanyahu did not reach an agreement with Bennett in a late-night phone conversation Monday night.
The Likud accused Bennett on Tuesday morning of “leaving the right-wing bloc” and refusing to help religious-Zionist causes of his own party. Netanyahu’s party offered Yamina the Education and Jerusalem Affairs portfolios and a deputy ministry dealing with issues related to religious Zionism.
“Tonight it became final that Bennett and Yamina have decided to quit the right-wing bloc,” the Likud statement said. “Bennett’s refusal of our generous offer for Yamina to control all the issues that are important to religious Zionism reveals that he cares about cabinet seats, not ideology. It is unfortunate that due to internal conflicts, Bennett and his colleagues in Yamina preferred to join the opposition with [Yesh Atid head] Yair Lapid and [Balad MK] Heba Yazbak.”
Netanyahu also complained that Yamina did not officially recommend to President Reuven Rivlin that Netanyahu form the next government, despite the party’s campaign promises.
“Religious Zionism will continue to be a central plank within the Likud and the policies of the government,” he said.
Maayan Hoffman contributed to this report.