Miri Regev appointed acting PM while Netanyahu abroad
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Miri Regev appointed acting PM while Netanyahu abroad

Controversial culture minister says move ‘an important statement for women’; she is the first woman to hold position under Netanyahu

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev during a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on December 21, 2016. (Ohad Zweigenberg)
Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev during a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on December 21, 2016. (Ohad Zweigenberg)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday appointed Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev as acting prime minister while he is out of the country for a two-day working visit to Greece.

“I thank the prime minister for the trust he has put in me,” Regev said in a statement. “I hope these 48 hours will be go smoothly and I wish the prime minister and his wife a good trip to Greece.”

Regev, who has frequently stirred controversy in recent months in her attempts to put her stamp on Israel’s culture scene, will be tasked with calling and chairing cabinet meetings in the case of an emergency.

Regev, 52, was first appointed as a minister in 2015 when she was given charge of the Culture and Sports Ministry. She has been a Likud Knesset member since 2009, having been elected to the party list after serving as the Israel Defense Forces spokesperson.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev (L) attend the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on December 11, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev (left) attend the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on December 11, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

With no permanent deputy who would automatically take over leadership of the country if the prime minister were unexpectedly indisposed (or removed from office by impeachment), Netanyahu has taken to appointing different cabinet ministers to fill the role each time he goes abroad or undergoes a medical procedure under sedation.

In the last year alone he has appointed Likud ministers Yisrael Katz, Gilad Erdan, Ze’ev Elkin, Yariv Levin and Yuval Steinitz to the post while he was indisposed.

While Regev will be in charge of leading cabinet meetings in Netanyahu’s absence, she is not a member of the more exclusive security cabinet — which is tasked with outlining and implementing foreign and defense policy — and is therefore unable to convene that forum should a national security emergency arise. Netanyahu, therefore, also specifically designated Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman to convene the security cabinet if necessary.

While Regev’s appointment is largely symbolic, she said the move was “an important statement for women and political figures in leadership roles.”

She is the first woman appointed as acting PM under Netanyahu. Former foreign minister Tzipi Livni would regularly fill in for then-prime minister Ehud Olmert.

Netanyahu, who is traveling to Thessaloniki for the annual trilateral summit between Israel, Greece and Cyprus, is set to return to Israel on Friday morning.

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