Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party on Thursday said that he had received rabbinical approval to serve as health minister in the cabinet.
“I accept the decision by the Council of Torah Sages and have answered positively the request of the prime minister, and will thus soon serve as health minister,” he said.
His announcement came following a ruling by the High Court of Justice preventing deputy ministers from fulfilling the role of ministers. Litzman, while nominally a deputy minister, held a minister’s authority in the Health Ministry. Lawmakers from his party have previously avoided ministerial positions due to their community’s reluctance to grant full legitimacy to a secular Jewish state.
On Thursday, Litzman said that he “respects” the demand of the High Court of Justice that he become a minister, saying, “As far as I’m concerned there is no change in my position.
“I served and will continue to serve the citizens of Israel exactly as I did in the past. In my view, a deputy minister in the capacity of minister is a health minister in every respect,” he added.
The court’s decision to ban the practice of granting a minister’s authority to a deputy minister came following a petition by the Yesh Atid party, which held the health ministership in the previous coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The petition demanded that the court prevent Netanyahu from taking on any cabinet roles beyond the premiership. In addition to being the nominal health minister, Netanyahu has also been serving as health minister, foreign minister, communications minister and the minister for regional cooperation.
On Sunday, the High Court of Justice ruled that Yaakov Litzman cannot continue to serve as deputy health minister with no presiding minister, and gave the government 60 days to fill the post.
In their decision, the five justices ruled that the current setup was “unlawful.”
“If you ask any hospital or citizen, they will tell you that the person governing the Health Ministry is Litzman and not Netanyahu,” Supreme Court Vice President Elyakim Rubinstein said during the hearing.
Yesh Atid hailed the court’s decision as a “triumph of the public interest over the political interest.
“The healthcare system is one of the most complicated and problematic in Israel, and it deserves a full minister with all the authority and responsibility required of a minister in the State of Israel,” the party said in a statement on Sunday. “Of course this is not meant as a war against the ultra-Orthodox, but rather against the culture of backroom deals.”
Litzman on Thursday afternoon mocked the Yesh Atid petition, telling Channel 2 that “the only achievement of [Yesh Atid leader] Yair Lapid is that he added a little money to my paycheck.”
Marissa Newman contributed to this report.