Cabinet approves Yisrael Beytenu’s Avidar as minister, Meretz’s Golan as deputy

Rebel lawmaker to become minister in PM’s office after threats to break with coalition; former general to become deputy minister of economic affairs; cabinet now numbers 29

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, June 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, Pool)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, June 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, Pool)

The cabinet on Sunday voted in favor of appointing maverick Yisrael Beytenu MK Eli Avidar as a minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Meretz MK Yair Golan as deputy minister of economic affairs.

Avidar has served in Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party since 2019, but ties between the two soured last month when the lawmaker was not given a ministerial post.

On the day of the new government’s swearing-in last month, Avidar said he would no longer vote along party lines, retaliating after Liberman did not grant him his choice of ministerial post.

Liberman, who was set to be named finance minister, offered Avidar the position of a minister within his office. Avidar declined, recognizing that he would have little independence in such a position. He asked Liberman to name him either agriculture minister or minister of the Negev and the Galilee, but Liberman combined the two portfolios and handed it to the party’s No. 2 Oded Forer.

Though he later said he was committed to the government, Avidar since declared himself an “independent lawmaker,” removed the Yisrael Beytenu logo from his Facebook page and reportedly threatened to vote against the coalition’s budget proposal. If it fails to pass a budget by early November, the government will automatically collapse.

Following negotiations between Avidar and Bennett’s office, a compromise was reached under which Avidar will be named minister in the Prime Minister’s Office in charge of strategic affairs. He will later be appointed intelligence minister, once Yesh Atid’s Elazar Stern, who is currently in the post, becomes head of the Jewish Agency for Israel. Liberman, who is furious with Avidar for breaking from the party, was said to have signed off on the offer.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (R) and Yisrael Beytenu MK Eli Avidar attend a plenum session in the Knesset, on July 12, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The government, a diverse mix of eight parties from across the political spectrum, has struggled to maintain its majority in the Knesset on key legislation amid bickering and dissent within its ranks that led to it losing some valued votes to the opposition.

In addition to approving Avidar’s appointment, the cabinet also okayed Meretz MK Yair Golan’s appointment as deputy economy minister amid efforts by the ruling coalition to overcome the stalemate in the Knesset that has prevented it from advancing legislation.

In return for Golan moving to the ministry, he will hand over his position as chair of the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee to the opposition.

The development is part of an emerging understanding between the government and the opposition aimed at amending the balance of power on key Knesset committees, reducing the coalition’s majority.

Meretz party MK Yair Golan speaks during a Knesset plenary session at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)

Opposition parties have complained that they are not chairing any of the key Knesset committees. As part of an agreement with the opposition, control of one committee could be handed to the opposition and the government majority on other committees is to be reduced from two lawmakers to just one.

Golan is a retired major general who once held the position of deputy commander of the Israel Defense Forces.

Economy Minister Orna Barbivai of the Yesh Atid party welcomed the appointment, saying in a statement last week, “Yair Golan, an excellent man of action, I am sure we will work in full cooperation to advance economics and industry in the country.”

The new cabinet has 29 ministers and seven deputy ministers, making it the third-largest government in Israel’s history. The previous government, a power-sharing arrangement under the leadership of under Benjamin Netanyahu, holds the record with 35 cabinet ministers.

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