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After leaving Blue and White, science minister resigns from cabinet as well

Likud officials reach compromise that okays no party primaries to be held ahead of upcoming election, but would require them in any subsequent vote

Minister of Science and Technology Izhar Shay is seen outside the Knesset on October 23, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Minister of Science and Technology Izhar Shay is seen outside the Knesset on October 23, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Science and Technology Minister Izhar Shay notified Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz Friday that he would be resigning from his cabinet post in the latest ministerial shakeup since the government collapsed last month, initiating elections this coming March.

The announcement came just over a week after Shay declared that he would be leaving the crumbling Blue and White party.

“I thank Benny Gantz for offering me a spot in his party, for the opportunity to be a minister in the Israeli government and to represent the Israeli innovation and high-tech industry, and for the privilege it was to be part of the Blue and White family,” Shay said in a statement.

“Despite the disagreements between us, I appreciate Benny, respect him very much. His modesty, integrity, personal example and personal sacrifice are what the people of Israel deserve in a leader,” the resigning minister added.

Shay did not indicate if he was joining another party or leaving politics.

Recent opinion polls show Blue and White hovering near the electoral threshold. Gantz entered politics two years ago, vowing to replace Netanyahu, merged his nascent Israel Resilience party with Yesh Atid to form Blue and White, and narrowly failed in three elections to form a coalition without Netanyahu’s Likud.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz seen at the Israeli parliament on November 10, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)

While Gantz campaigned on the promise that he would not sit in a government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu so long as the prime minister faces corruption charges, he agreed to do just that in late March 2020, and formed a unity government with Netanyahu in May. Furious, Yesh Atid and a second minor faction (Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem) broke away from Blue and White and went into the opposition. Blue and White has watched its popularity plummet since, leading to a hemorrhaging of lawmakers who have left the party since elections were called last month.

Shay’s statement did not specify who would be replacing him as science and technology minister, but in the interim, his post is expected to be returned to Gantz, who is also currently serving as defense minister in addition to communications minister and justice minister after the resignations of Yoaz Hendel and Avi Nissenkorn.

Also on Friday, the cabinet approved via a telephone vote the replacements of former Water Resources and Higher Education Minister Ze’ev Elkin. The water resources portfolio will be transferred back to the Energy Ministry headed by Yuval Steinitz and the higher education portfolio will return to the Education Ministry run by Yoav Gallant. In addition, the cabinet approved the transfer of the social equality portfolio — which had been held by Meirav Cohen who resigned from the post to join the Yesh Atid party earlier this month — back to the Labor and Welfare Ministry run by Itzik Shmuli.

Despite the growing number of resignations, Gantz has vowed to fight on, saying he will lead Blue and White into the March elections and that the party will help remove Netanyahu from office.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is surrounded by Likud lawmakers as he gives a press statement ahead of the start of his trial at the Jerusalem District Court, May 24, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Separately Friday, the Likud party’s court approved a compromise agreement between Netanyahu and several members who had petitioned against the secretariat’s decision to cancel primaries for the slate ahead of the upcoming election.

As part of the approved compromise, no primaries will be held ahead of the election for the 24th Knesset in March, but they will be required ahead of the election for the 25th Knesset, whenever they occur. The secretariat decision from last month had stated that primaries would only be held for the 25th Knesset if they take place at least a year after the March election.

In addition, the compromise will require Netanyahu demand in coalition negotiations a Norwegian Law that would allow ministers to resign from their Knesset posts to be replaced by lawmakers lower down the slate’s list if the party receives less than 35 seats in parliament.

Netanyahu had argued that primaries could not be held in the coming months because of the pandemic.

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