As government set to be sworn in, Gantz doles out ministries
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As government set to be sworn in, Gantz doles out ministries

Ashkenazi takes foreign affairs, Nissenkorn justice, Tamano-Shata immigration, Hendel comms; highest-ranking woman in Blue and White forgoes portfolio to head up environment panel

Benny Gantz, head of Blue and White party and MK Gabi Ashkenazi at an  election campaign event ahead of the coming Israeli elections, in Kfar Saba on February 12, 2020 (Gili Yaari / Flash90)
Benny Gantz, head of Blue and White party and MK Gabi Ashkenazi at an election campaign event ahead of the coming Israeli elections, in Kfar Saba on February 12, 2020 (Gili Yaari / Flash90)

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz on Thursday was distributing ministerial portfolios to his senior party members ahead of the swearing-in of the new government after 18 months of political deadlock and three consecutive elections.

Under the coalition deal with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, Gantz will serve as defense minister for the next 18 months, then assume the premiership in a rotation deal with Netanyahu, as the Likud leader in turn becomes “alternate prime minister.” The defense post will then be filled by MK Gabi Ashkenazi, who, like Gantz, is a former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff.

In meetings throughout the day, Gantz confirmed Ashkenazi as foreign minister for the next 18 months before he assumes defense, and MK Avi Nissenkorn as justice minister.

He tapped MK Pnina Tamano-Shata as immigration absorption minister, making her the first Ethiopia-born immigrant in Israel’s history to join the cabinet. MK Izhar Shai, an electrical engineer, was appointed science and technology minister, while party lawmaker Chili Tropper will head the Culture and Sports Ministry. MK Alon Shuster will lead the Agriculture Ministry.

Yesh Atid MK Pnina Tamano-Shata attends a Finance Committee meeting in the Knesset on September 30, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Michael Bitton will be tapped as a minister within the Defense Ministry, where he will be in charge of civilian-related, social and educational matters such as preparing Israel’s home front for potential war and dealing with pre-military academies and bereaved families.

Merav Cohen will be made minister for social equality, where she will also be in charge of support for Holocaust survivors.

Gantz tapped Omer Yankelevich to be the next diaspora affairs minister, making her the first female ultra-Orthodox cabinet member in Israeli history.

Asaf Zamir was appointed tourism minister and Orit Farkash will serve as strategic affairs minister in the next government, Gantz’s party said. Farkash will also be in charge of overseeing Israel’s role in the battle against rising anti-Semitism in the world and combating economic and cultural boycotts against Israel, in addition to serving on the security cabinet and on the newly formed socioeconomic cabinet.

According to Gantz’s party, MK Miki Haimovich, a former journalist and environmental and animal rights activist, declined an offer to become a senior minister and instead chose to lead the Knesset’s Internal Affairs and Environment Committee and serve as a deputy Knesset speaker.

Blue and White MK Miki Haimovich attends an emergency conference on disasters at construction sites in Israel at the Knesset, on May 27, 2019 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Haimovich is the most senior female member of Gantz’s party.

Gantz also met with Labor’s Itzik Shmuli and handed him the labor and welfare portfolio. He later appointed Labor chairman Amir Peretz economy minister.

In addition to Labor, Blue and White also inked a coalition deal with Derech Eretz. The small right-wing faction comprises just two MKs — Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser — who splintered from Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem party to join Gantz in a coalition with Netanyahu.

Gantz gave Hendel the Communications Ministry on Thursday afternoon, while Hauser was named chair of the powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

New Knesset members from the Blue and White pose in their newly allocated Knesset plenary seats, April 29, 2019. At right is Miki Haimovich. (Noam Moscowitz/Knesset)

Under the coalition deal signed last month between Likud and Blue and White, the new government will initially have at least 32 ministers — divided equally between the Netanyahu- and Gantz-led blocs — before swelling to 36 in six months in what would be the largest government in Israel’s history.

Netanyahu late Wednesday and early Thursday signed coalition agreements with his long-time ultra-Orthodox allies, United Torah Judaism and Shas, as well as the right-wing Gesher, and continued to distribute portfolios to his Likud members ahead of the swearing-in.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein at a Likud party faction meeting in the Knesset, on April 30, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Thus far, Likud’s Yuli Edelstein has been appointed health minister, with Yoav Kisch as his deputy; Israel Katz will get the treasury; Ofir Akunis was tapped as regional affairs minister; and Miri Regev will be transportation minister, and reportedly become foreign minister in 18 months when Blue and White leader Gantz takes over as prime minister. Likud’s Yariv Levin has been nominated Knesset speaker.

Former Likud minister Haim Katz, who is under criminal indictment and cannot be appointed a minister, will head up the Knesset’s Labor and Welfare Committee. That post was held by Katz from 2005 to 2006 and again from 2009 to 2013, during which time he allegedly perpetrated the fraud and breach of trust for which he will stand trial.

As part of Likud’s deal with Shas, leader Aryeh Deri will remain interior minister. Deri also announced Wednesday that Rabbi Yaakov Avitan, an Ashkelon city council member for Shas who is not a Knesset member, will be tapped as religious affairs minister. United Torah Judaism leader Yaakov Litzman will become housing minister.

Interior Affairs Minister Aryeh Deri, left, speaks with Health Minister Yaakov Litzman during a meeting in Jerusalem, March 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Gesher leader Orly Levy-Abekasis also signed a coalition deal with Netanyahu, which will see her head the newly created Community Empowerment and Advancement Ministry.

Yamina’s Rafi Peretz, meanwhile, split off from his right-wing party and was negotiating for the Jerusalem Affairs portfolio, though reports said Netanyahu was offering him a to-be-created settlements minister position instead.

Top Likud members are still gunning for the six remaining portfolios held by Netanyahu: energy, intelligence; Jerusalem affairs; the Negev, Galilee and periphery; public security; and environmental protection.

The Public Security Ministry, which is responsible for overseeing police, is now expected to go to outgoing Justice Minister Amir Ohana, a close ally of the premier.

The government composed of Likud, Blue and White, Labor, Gesher, United Torah Judaism and Shas is to be sworn in Thursday evening, bringing 500 days of political deadlock to a close.

Yesh Atid-Telem leader Yair Lapid — Gantz’s former Blue and White ally — was set to become opposition leader. Also in the opposition were the Joint List, left-wing Meretz, right-wing Yisrael Beytenu and right-wing Yamina.

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