Coronavirus cabinet no longer all-male, as social equality minister joins

Coronavirus cabinet no longer all-male, as social equality minister joins

Move reportedly follows pressure on Netanyahu, who had been criticized over panel with 10 men; former health minister Litzman also added

Meirav Cohen at the Knesset in Jerusalem, April 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Meirav Cohen at the Knesset in Jerusalem, April 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Two ministers were added Monday to the so-called coronavirus cabinet, one of them female, following criticism over the all-male makeup of the ministerial panel overseeing the country’s pandemic response.

Social Equality Minister Meirav Cohen of the Blue and White party became part of the coronavirus cabinet, as did Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman, who leads the United Torah Judaism party, according to a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office.

Both had previously been observers on the panel.

They join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, Finance Minister Israel Katz, Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, Economy Minister Amir Peretz, Science and Technology Minister Izhar Shay and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening of the cabinet meeting, August 2, 2020. (Screen grab/ Channel 13)

Their inclusion was confirmed by the government in a conference call, the statement said. Reports said the move followed pressure on the premier.

In a tweet, Cohen said she was “happy to join the coronavirus cabinet and welcomes the decision.”

“Apart from the female representation, which is important, I promise to represent the interests of the elderly population in Israel, which, as is known, is the most vulnerable, as a result of the coronavirus crisis,” added Cohen, who before becoming a lawmaker ran a project to support and defend the rights of elderly people.

Israel’s 34-strong cabinet voted last month to reduce the number of members in the coronavirus cabinet, a smaller forum of ministers whose portfolios touch on the virus outbreak, from 16 to 10 members, prompting anger from some of those left out and criticism that none of the remaining 10 was a woman.

Litzman, who exited the Health Ministry earlier this year, stormed out of the room at the time, in protest of his exclusion from the panel.

“I am not prepared to accept that. I am the head of a party and a former health minister,” said Litzman, who switched ministries in May. His conduct during the first wave of the pandemic was strongly criticized at the time.

Newly appointed housing minister and former health minister Yaakov Litzman, at his installation ceremony at the Housing Ministry in Jerusalem on May 18, 2020. (Olivier FitoussiFlash90)

Cohen, Transportation Minister Miri Regev, Welfare Minister Itzik Shmuli, Tourism Minister Assaf Zamir were all also left out at the time, as was Education Minister Yoav Gallant, who was reportedly also furious.

At the time, Cohen pointed out that there were no women in the reduced forum. “There are no women in the [coronavirus] cabinet; I’m not talking about me personally,” she was quoted saying. “I understand the desire for efficiency, but it makes no sense for there to be no women among 10 representatives.”

“I sometimes wonder in the middle of the night why traffic lights are red,” Netanyahu was said to respond. “There are a lot of things that don’t make sense.”

He added that a major consideration was keeping the committee split evenly between his bloc in the government and Gantz’s. Each received five ministers in the newly reduced panel. Now, each bloc has six.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid had tweeted in response to the lack of women that the cabinet was composed of “out-of-touch chauvinists.”

Stuart Winer contributed to this report.

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