Litzman takes oath, becomes first Agudat Yisrael minister in 63 years

Akunis replaces Danon at Science, Technology and Space, considers dropping last word in ministry name due to spate of astronaut jokes.

Ya'acov Litzman, the deputy health minister (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Ya'acov Litzman, the deputy health minister
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
United Torah Judaism MK Ya’acov Litzman affirmed his loyalty to the state on Wednesday afternoon and committed to upholding its laws, turning him from a deputy minister running the Health Ministry to a fullfledged health minister like all his predecessors.
He is the first of his party’s Agudat Yisrael faction since 1950 to be a minister in the cabinet. The last was Rabbi Yitzhak Meir Levin – one of the 37 people who signed the Israeli declaration of independence – who served as welfare minister in David Ben-Gurion’s cabinet from 1949. Levin served in several subsequent cabinets and was a longtime leader and minister for Agudat Yisrael and related parties.
However, he resigned in 1952 in protest of the National Service Law for Women.
Since then, the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox party has refused to let its political leaders serve in the cabinet as ministers, so as not to bear collective responsibility for its decisions and actions.
But a petition that the Yesh Atid party filed in the High Court of Justice to bar deputy ministers from holding full ministerial posts forced UTJ to allow Litzman to declare his loyalty to the state. A total of 83 MKs voted in favor of Litzman’s appointment, and 10 opposed it.
“I will continue to serve the citizens of Israel [as minister] exactly as I have up to now,” said Litzman, who became deputy health minister six years ago and served for four years until the previous Netanyahu government kept the haredi parties out of the cabinet.
“In my view, I [am maintaining] the same commitment to advancing the needs of the citizenry’s health, with the same responsibility toward the health system, and without changing my daily functions in the ministry,” the Ger Hassid declared.
Meanwhile, Likud MK Ophir Akunis – who had wanted the post of ambassador to the UN and was recently disappointed when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave it to fellow Likud MK Danny Danon instead – was sworn in as science, technology and space minister. Akunis’s appointment, in turn, disappointed Likud MK Bennie Begin, a geologist by training, who served for a short time as science minister during the early years of that office and resigned for political reasons.
Fifty-seven MKs voted for Akunis’s advancement, while 33 voted against.
The new minister has hinted that he is considering removing the word “space” from the ministry’s name, as he has been the butt of jokes on social media calling him an “astronaut.”
However, Zionist Union MK Nahman Shai called on Akunis not to expunge the word from the ministry title.
“Government ministries are not a shirt that is suited to the minister who serves in the post, but the opposite: The minister should suit himself to the position,” said Shai. “That’s the way it works in a standard ministry. It’s important to fight off the jokes.”
Zionist Union MK Merav Michaeli, meanwhile, said that Litzman’s becoming a minister was an “advance of proper administration and of the haredi parties. I hope that this advancement will continue and that in the next Knesset, there will be a boost so there will be female candidates for MKs in Ashkenazi haredi parties.”
The government also announced its plans to change the name of the Senior Citizens Ministry to the “Social Equality Ministry,” and to return the Construction Ministry’s title to “Construction and Housing Ministry,” as it was a number of years ago.