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After High Court warning, cabinet approves appointment of 5 ministers

Vote held after Netanyahu repeatedly resisted calls to fill the positions when trying to prevent appointment of Blue and White’s Gantz as justice minister

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

A cabinet meeting of the new government at Chagall State Hall in the Knesset in Jerusalem, May 24, 2020. (Abir Sultan/Pool/AFP)
A cabinet meeting of the new government at Chagall State Hall in the Knesset in Jerusalem, May 24, 2020. (Abir Sultan/Pool/AFP)

The cabinet on Monday approved the appointment of several cabinet ministers after a fracas with the High Court last week that saw judges freeze the installation of a Likud loyalist of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as justice minister in a move that violated coalition agreements with the Blue and White party.

According to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office, ministers, in a video meeting, approved the appointments of Blue and White’s Eitan Ginzburg as communications minister, Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper to also serve as science and technology minister; and Strategic Affairs Minister Michael Biton to additionally head up the Social Equality Ministry.

In addition, Likud’s Education Minister Yoav Gallant was appointed minister of higher education and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz was appointed minister of water resources.

The ministries were vacated by resigning ministers in recent months as the government collapsed before the March 23 election.

Knesset member Eitan Ginzburg at the Knesset, on April 29, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

After they became empty, Netanyahu repeatedly resisted calls to fill the ministries with permanent replacements, as part of a wider effort to prevent the appointment of Blue and White leader Benny Gantz as justice minister.

As part of Gantz’s coalition agreement with Netanyahu last year, the position of justice minister was reserved for members of Gantz’s Blue and White-led bloc. Avi Nissenkorn held the post until elections were called late last year, at which point he resigned to run on a separate party’s slate. Gantz, also defense minister, subsequently took on the post in an interim capacity until his temporary tenure ran out last month.

After repeated warnings from the High Court that the government must appoint a permanent justice minister and fill the other vacant ministries, Netanyahu last week briefly forced through the appointment of Likud’s Ofir Akunis as justice minister over the objections of the attorney general, who said the move was illegal.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, at the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem on June 21, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

The prime minister quickly reversed his position after the High Court intervened.

Telling the court that he had agreed for Gantz to become justice minister — a move that took place in a vote last Wednesday night — Netanyahu also said he would fill the several other unstaffed ministerial roles at this week’s cabinet meeting. However, the premier canceled Sunday’s planned meeting as the country observed a day of mourning for the 45 people killed in the Mount Meron tragedy, and therefore the appointments were only approved on Monday.

Critics accused Netanyahu of trying to blocking Gantz’s appointment in order to exert pressure over the Justice Ministry in an attempt to influence his ongoing criminal trial.

Netanyahu, who is on trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, has railed against the justice system, police, left-wing opposition and media, accusing them of conspiring to remove him from power. He denies any wrongdoing.

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