After Jewish Home anger, Netanyahu says he’ll reappoint deputy defense minister

PM had pushed off vote to reinstate Eli Ben Dahan, who automatically lost job with Liberman’s resignation

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

Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan speaks during a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting on January 19, 2017.(Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan speaks during a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting on January 19, 2017.(Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to reinstate a senior Jewish Home member as deputy defense minister, the Prime Minister’s Office said Sunday evening, following a furious outcry from the religious-nationalist party which came as the government teetered on the brink of collapse.

With Avigdor Liberman’s resignation as defense minister coming into effect on Sunday morning, Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan of the Jewish Home party also lost his job. According to government protocol, a deputy minister’s term automatically ends with the firing or resignation of the minister above them.

The Jewish Home party said Netanyahu earlier Sunday had effectively fired Ben Dahan by postponing a vote to reappoint him.

Netanyahu’s announcement to reinstate Ben Dahan came after the Jewish Home said it would not vote with the coalition until the decision was reversed. Ben Dahan’s office confirmed Sunday night that he would now remain in the post.

Liberman announced his resignation from the government on Wednesday after condemning Israel’s ceasefire with Hamas following a deadly exchange in the south. Filing his resignation letter on Thursday, his official departure only took hold on Sunday morning, 48 working hours later, triggering Ben Dahan’s firing from the ministry at the same time.

Eli Ben Dahan of the Jewish Party and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Lieberman at the Knesset on June 1, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Jewish Home had requested that Ben Dahan — who served as deputy defense minister under Moshe Ya’alon from 2015 and kept the job when Liberman took over a year later — be immediately reappointed.

The party said earlier that Netanyahu had promised to hold a required vote on the appointment at the Sunday’s cabinet meeting, but pushed off the ministerial ballot, effectively firing Ben Dahan. In a statement released after the cabinet meeting, the Jewish Home called on Netanyahu to rescind his decision to “dismiss” Ben Dahan, saying it was “an unfair and unjust act against an honest and worthy public figure.” The party also said that the prime minister would not and has not treated other coalition partners in the same way.

The move deepened a coalition crisis that has taken hold since Liberman’s resignation.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Minister of Education Naftali Bennett attend the weekly cabinet meeting at the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem, August 30, 2016. (Abir Sultan, Pool via AP)

Following Liberman’s Wednesday announcement, Bennett’s Jewish Home presented an ultimatum to Netanyahu, with the party saying it will leave the coalition and force new elections if Bennett is not made defense minister.

Netanyahu and Bennett met on Friday to discuss the issue.

Bennett was reported on Saturday to have agreed with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to push for national elections to be held on March 26, 2019. The report came as both Bennett and Kahlon voiced their clear support for a national vote well ahead of November 2019, when the current government’s term is set to end.

On Sunday, before the postponement of the vote on Ben Dahan, Jewish Home officials told The Times of Israel: “There is still a possibility that the government would be able to continue. However, the slim majority of 61 would make that highly unlikely, given some of the important legislation that remains on the docket for the remainder of the Knesset.”

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