Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assigned Immigrant Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin the additional position of Jerusalem affairs minister early Tuesday morning — despite having promised to not entrust the office to a cabinet member other than himself –in a move that drew sharp criticism from Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.
The appointment is seen as an attempt by the prime minister to appease Elkin, who had the Strategic Affairs Ministry taken away from him less than a week after he won it as part of Netanyahu’s deal with MK Gilad Erdan.
Erdan was confirmed as a minister on Monday, after more than a week of uncertainty regarding the role he would fill in Netanyahu’s new cabinet. He will lead both the Public Security Ministry and the Strategic Affairs Ministry.
Last week, Netanyahu split the Diaspora and Jerusalem Affairs Ministry in two, giving Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett the position of Diaspora minister, and promising to keep the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry under his personal auspices in keeping with a campaign promise Netanyahu had made to Barkat in February.
Netanyahu, however, ultimately acceded to Elkin’s demands for the ministry, eliciting immediate censure from Barkat. “Jerusalem is not a consolation prize,” the Jerusalem mayor said Tuesday after news broke of Elkin’s appointment.
“I’m troubled that narrow political considerations will bring about both a waste of public funds and more unnecessary bureaucracy that will make the work of the government and the municipality in developing and advancing Jerusalem more difficult,” Barkat said in a statement.
He was apparently referring to difficulties he faced in working with Bennett, who held the Jerusalem Affairs portfolio in Netanyahu’s previous cabinet.
In December, rumors swirled that Netanyahu might give the ministry to Barkat himself, as a way to keep the mayor, who is seen as a possible future prime ministerial candidate, from backing the Kulanu party.
“The decision to recreate the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry was made against my judgement and against the prime minister’s commitments,” Barkat said.
Elkin said that he did not take Barkat’s comments personally. “There have been Jerusalem affairs ministers because this was a way for the government to stress the importance of the issue, and it also normally came along with the investment of special resources in Jerusalem,” he told Israel Radio Tuesday afternoon.
Elkin explained that special attention to Jerusalem entailed more collaboration between the government and the municipality than in other cities. “Someone needs to coordinate the government’s activities. Theoretically the director general of the Prime Minister’s Office could do that, but he’s got a few other things on his mind besides dealing with Jerusalem,” he said jokingly.
“I understand that [Barkat] wanted to be Jerusalem affairs minster himself, but it didn’t work out,” he said. “But I believe that, at the end of the day, this dispute will settle down, and we will work together, hand in hand,” Elkin said.
“What’s important is Jerusalem,” he added.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.