Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will on Sunday ask the cabinet to approve the appointment of United Torah Judaism’s Yaakov Litzman as health minister, the Prime Minister’s Office said Friday, after Netanyahu was forced to drop all his ministerial posts due to criminal charges against him.
In addition to being prime minister, Netanyahu also currently holds the agriculture, health, social affairs and Diaspora affairs portfolios. While the law appears to indicate a prime minister can continue to serve while under indictment, other ministers must resign their posts once charges are filed.
Netanyahu has promised to give the other portfolios up by the end of the year, but apart from Litzman, he has not indicated who will get the jobs.
Netanyahu’s role as health minister is nominal only, as the ministry is actually run by Litzman, who has been deputy minister for several years. Litzman won approval from the spiritual leaders who guide his ultra-Orthodox party to take on the full minister role, normally shunned by his community, if Netanyahu is forced to give it up.
Like other UTJ leaders before him, Litzman had refused to take a full ministerial positions due to the ultra-Orthodox community’s reluctance to grant full legitimacy to a secular Jewish state.
However, a group of rabbis who serve as spiritual advisers to the ultra-Orthodox party agreed last month that Litzman could become minister should Netanyahu resign the post.
Litzman is a member of the Gur Hasidic movement, and major policy decisions are often made by the powerful head of the sect, or Admor, Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter, as well as other rabbis.
According to reports, the rabbis only gave the green light because the ministerial post is part of a transitional government, with stunted powers.
In 2015, Alter and other rabbis also gave Litzman permission to become a full minister, after the High Court ruled that deputy ministers could not fulfill the role of ministers. In 2017, after he resigned to protest train infrastructure construction being carried out on Shabbat, the government passed a law making it legal for deputy ministers to hold de facto authority over the office, allowing him to return.
Litzman himself may soon face charges over allegations that he used his office to illicitly provide assistance to an alleged serial sex abuser, as well as on a separate bribery charge for helping to prevent the closure of a Jerusalem deli despite serious health concerns.
Netanyahu last month became the first sitting prime minister with charges against him when Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced he would be indicting the prime minister for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
Mandelbit ruled that Netanyahu does not have to resign as prime minister, as he currently heads a caretaker government so the action would have “no practical relevance.” But he said the premier did have to give up his other posts.
Netanyahu has dismissed the charges against him and vowed to stay on to fight them. He is also widely believed to be planning on seeking parliamentary immunity if he is able to form a coalition, a feat that has eluded him in two rounds of elections.
Israel is in a political deadlock in part caused by Netanyahu’s refusal to step down despite the charges against him. The Blue and White party, led by MK Benny Gantz, has said it won’t join a coalition or unity government if Netanyahu remains prime minister.
Netanyahu, who’s been premier for the past decade, has held various ministries for himself at times to reserve them as bargaining chips, including, recently, the key foreign and defense portfolios.
The most serious of the criminal cases against him stemmed from his time as communications minister. He is accused of using the role to trade regulatory favors for positive media coverage.