Katz recorded saying he can make Netanyahu give him Treasury

Ben Gvir said to eye education portfolio for his party, secular school reform

Extremist MK to meet Netanyahu Monday; Smotrich said to demand defense or finance portfolio; Likud MKs reportedly seeking law change to enable indicted Bitan to become minister

Left photo: Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech at the Likud party's election rally in Ramat Gan on February 29, 2020; Right photo: Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the Otzma Yehudit party, holds a press conference in Jerusalem on February 26, 2020. (Gili Yaari/Flash90; Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Left photo: Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech at the Likud party's election rally in Ramat Gan on February 29, 2020; Right photo: Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the Otzma Yehudit party, holds a press conference in Jerusalem on February 26, 2020. (Gili Yaari/Flash90; Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Extremist MK Itamar Ben Gvir will reportedly demand that his Otzma Yehudit faction get the education portfolio, in addition to his campaign to become public security minister, in informal coalition talks he is expected to kick off Monday in a meeting with Likud party chief Benjamin Netanyahu.

Ahead of last week’s election, which was won by Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc of parties, Ben Gvir publicly proclaimed that he was gunning for the job of public security minister, which oversees the police.

The Kan public broadcaster reported Sunday that in addition to that, Ben Gvir will demand that a member of his faction become education minister, and that secular school curricula undergo an overhaul to deepen Jewish history and Jewish heritage studies.

Meanwhile, Channel 13 news reported that Ben Gvir was expected to call for imposing tougher conditions on security prisoners — who are predominantly Palestinian terror convicts — when he meets with Netanyahu.

Netanyahu began the informal talks on forming his next government on Sunday — though he has not yet been officially handed the mandate by President Isaac Herzog — meeting the leaders of United Torah Judaism’s two factions, Moshe Gafni and Yitzhak Goldknopf; and Ben Gvir’s Religious Zionism party leader Bezalel Smotrich.

Smotrich has reportedly expressed interest in either the justice or defense portfolio, though Channel 12 news reported Sunday evening that during a meeting earlier in the day, Smotrich demanded he receive either the defense or the finance portfolio.

The report added that Smotrich had backed Ben Gvir’s demand to be appointed public security minister.

Kan reported that Smotrich also called for an “expanded” override clause allowing the Knesset to void Supreme Court rulings with a simple majority and not require at least 61 MKs. The report said, however, that Netanyahu and his ultra-Orthodox allies were opposed to such a measure.

L-R: MKs Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich at a rally of their Religious Zionism party in the southern city of Sderot on October 26, 2022. (Gil Cohen-Magen / AFP)

Smotrich and Ben Gvir announced Sunday that they will be negotiating as a united bloc, attempting to shut down speculation that Netanyahu could seek to split their slate in half.

In a joint statement, Smotrich and Ben Gvir said they agreed to “a joint bloc and full backing of both parties” — Religious Zionism and Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit faction — “on the topic of entering the coalition.” The leaders stated that the factions “will not enter the coalition without one another. More than half a million voters voted for us in order to bring change — and we are beholden to them.”

In the wake of last week’s election, speculation has run rampant that Netanyahu might seek to bring the far-right Smotrich and his MKs into his government, but leave the even more radical Ben Gvir and his lawmakers in the opposition.

In past election campaigns, Netanyahu has said Ben Gvir — who has been convicted for incitement to violence, has repeatedly waved his gun around during confrontations and has said he would encourage Arab citizens to emigrate — would not be fit to hold a cabinet post. Last month, he backtracked, saying the firebrand MK could hold a ministerial position in his next government.

US officials have indicated in closed-door meetings that they are likely to boycott Ben Gvir if he is handed a cabinet posting, and many Diaspora Jewish groups have expressed alarm at the ascent of the far-right and in particular at the prospect of Ben Gvir joining the cabinet.

Netanyahu is likely concerned at the potential reaction from the US and other Western allies if he hands Ben Gvir a senior position, including a spot on the security cabinet.

Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu (center) speaks with Religious Zionism chief Bezalel Smotrich (second from left) during informal coalition talks in Jerusalem, on November 6, 2022. (Courtesy)

It is unclear whether either Smotrich or Ben Gvir will receive their demands.

According to Hebrew media reports, the job of justice minister is considered likely to go to Likud MK Yariv Levin, and Smotrich is not considered in line for the job of defense minister, which could go instead to Likud MK Yoav Gallant. While Smotrich has also reportedly expressed interest in becoming finance minister, the latest comments from Likud officials indicate that he may instead be in line for the position of education minister.

Ben Gvir is expected to wage a fierce battle to receive the public security minister job, and it is unclear if Likud negotiators will be able to strike a deal with the extremist MK without handing him the position.

At the moment, however, negotiations have only informally begun, and no jobs or assignments have been confirmed or promised.

The race for cabinet roles was also heating up within the Likud ranks, with Channel 12 reporting Sunday evening that unidentified lawmakers want to advance legislation that will permit party MK David Bitan to serve as a minister, despite his indictment on corruption charges.

Bitan denied any such proposal was in the works, telling the network in response that when he wants to get something done, he does so in the open.

While a Knesset member under indictment can serve as prime minister, as Netanyahu has and is expected to again do following his election win, a lawmaker under indictment cannot be a minister, per a High Court of Justice ruling in the 1990s.

MK David Bitan during a plenum session in the Knesset, on October 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Separately, Channel 12 aired a recording of senior party MK Israel Katz claiming he had formed a “faction” of loyalists within the party that will force Netanyahu to make him finance minister, a job he has previously held and which he publicly said Friday that he had requested from Netanyahu.

In the recording from a private meeting, Katz is heard saying Netanyahu “gives roles to two [types of] people: those he wants to and those he has to.” He added that it was “much easier” to get a ministerial portfolio by forcing Netanyahu’s hand.

In the recording, Katz said he was a major figure in Likud — more prominent than perceived rival MK Nir Barkat — and that he should be the natural frontrunner for the Treasury anyway.

But beyond that, Katz claimed he “has a faction” within Likud that will back his demands, elaborating that it includes MKs Bitan, May Golan, Nissim Vaturi, and Hanoch Milvitzky.

Netanyahu’s office issued a strong response quoting unnamed associates of the Likud leader.

“Netanyahu isn’t impressed by threats. Anyone who threatens will find themselves on the outs, not with a ministerial role.”

Golan distanced herself from Katz in a statement, saying she is part of no “faction” within Likud.

Likud MK Israel Katz speaks at a conference organized by the Makor Rishon newspaper at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, February 21, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Katz himself commented that the remarks were made “in a private conversation, laden with humor, that was recorded in violation of all norms.” He said he was “happy” he meets the perceived criteria for becoming minister, adding that he “trusts Netanyahu’s judgment in appointing government ministers.”

Meanwhile, MK Avi Maoz, the head of the anti-LGBT Noam party, which also ran together with Religious Zionism’s far-right slate, said Sunday that he would be conducting his own separate coalition negotiations.

A spokesman for Maoz declined to detail Noam’s demands for entering the government, saying it “does not conduct negotiations via the media.”

President Herzog’s office said Sunday that he would begin holding official consultations with party leaders on Wednesday at his residence in Jerusalem, with the meetings broadcast live to the public, and then he is expected to formally task Netanyahu with the job of forming the next government.

The decisive win for Likud and its allied parties in last week’s election makes Netanyahu the clear choice.

Netanyahu’s bloc won 64 seats out of 120, and is expected to form a government with ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and UTJ, as well as with the far-right Religious Zionism-Otzma Yehudit alliance.

Amy Spiro and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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