Bennett torpedoes Zandberg’s bid to appoint ex-Meretz leader Beilin as parks chief

Alternate PM vetoes appointment of Oslo accords architect to lead Israel Nature and Parks Authority, after backlash from right

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

(From left) Meretz's Yossi Beilin, Essawi Frej, Tamar Zandberg and Nitzan Horowitz at a memorial ceremony for assassinated prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on November 4, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
(From left) Meretz's Yossi Beilin, Essawi Frej, Tamar Zandberg and Nitzan Horowitz at a memorial ceremony for assassinated prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on November 4, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Alternate prime minister Naftali Bennett has vetoed Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg’s attempt to appoint former Meretz leader Yossi Beilin as next chairman of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

Bennett told Zandberg on Friday that a ministerial vote on Beilin’s appointment, which had been scheduled for Sunday, will not take place as planned, effectively vetoing it for the remaining months of the transition government led by caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid.

Zandberg, a member of the left-wing Meretz party herself, was criticized by right-wing lawmakers for the attempt to appoint Beilin, as some accused her of “trying to turn the Nature and Parks Authority into a branch of Meretz.”

In the 1990s Beilin was a central figure in the Oslo Peace Accords with the Palestinians, much reviled by the Israeli right, which led to mutual recognition between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority.

He was also a key founder of the Taglit-Birthright Israel program, which has sponsored free trips to Israel for young Jews from around the world, bringing hundreds of thousands of Jewish youths to the country since 1999.

In a letter addressed to Bennett on Friday, Likud MK Yoav Kisch and Religious Zionism MK Orit Strook, both of whom chair the Knesset’s Land of Israel Caucus, a lobby group that aims to strengthen Israel’s hold on the West Bank, argued that Beilin’s appointment would be “disastrous” and called Zandberg’s attempt “outrageous.”

Then-prime minister Naftali Bennett, left, speaks with Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg in the Knesset, on July 12, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“There’s no doubt that such an appointment would be disastrous to sites operated by the Nature and Parks Authority within [the West Bank] or [East Jerusalem],” they wrote, referring to Beilin as “an extremist left-wing individual” who “would do anything in his power” to damage such sites.

The lawmakers urged Bennett, who as alternate prime minister has the power to veto such appointments, to intervene.

Yossi Beilin attends a Constitution, Law, and Justice, Committee meeting in the Knesset, on July 9, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“We demand that you act immediately to annul this outrageous appointment,” they wrote.

They were joined by Religious Zionism MK Ofir Sofer, who said in a tweet that he had appealed to Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara “with an immediate request that she halt the appointment” due to the transitory nature of the government.

Religious Zionism MK Itamar Ben Gvir added: “The left is trampling the law and ignoring every possible procedure.”

The far-right lawmaker argued that “a political appointment during election season is against the law,” accusing Meretz of “political bribery.”

Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked (L) speaks with New Hope head Gideon Sa’ar at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Bennett’s intervention eventually came after Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar also urged him to veto the appointment.

Zandberg said Bennett’s decision “caved in to a campaign created by a poison-producing machine.”

MK Itamar Ben Gvir speaks in the Knesset on November 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

She said it constituted “persecution” of Beilin “and a victory to everything the government had fought against this past year.”

“I guess we have failed,” she said, slamming Bennett for being influenced by “the witch-hunt of Ben Gvir and his colleagues,” lamenting that this was coming from someone who until recently “had sought to create another discourse, mutual respect and unity.”

Also coming to Beilin’s defense was current Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz, who called the whole ordeal a “shameful disqualification” of Beilin.

“There’s no one more fit than Yossi, the founder of ‘Taglit,’ who loves this country with all his heart, for the position.”

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