Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu informed the government late Wednesday that he has resigned from three additional ministerial portfolios that he holds, a move forced by the criminal charges against him.
His resignation will go into effect on Sunday, when he will likely appoint new ministers to fill the vacancies at the ministries of welfare, agriculture and diaspora affairs.
Israeli cabinet ministers facing criminal indictment are required to resign from their cabinet posts, though no such explicit order is outlined in Israeli law for prime ministers.
Netanyahu promised the High Court of Justice that he would quit all positions except prime minister by the end of 2019. Due to a now-defunct, but not-yet-replaced coalition agreement from the 20th Knesset, one portfolio will go to a Shas lawmaker while the other two will go to Likud MKs.
On Sunday, the cabinet approved the promotion of United Torah Judaism leader Yaakov Litzman, who has served for years as deputy health minister, to full health minister in Netanyahu’s stead. The move elicited harsh condemnations from Australian Jewish organizations angry at the elevation of an official who police recommended be indicted for illicitly seeking to prevent the extradition of an alleged serial sex abuser wanted by Australian authorities.
In what he said was the first time an Australian Jewish leader had sent an open letter to the prime minister of Israel, Zionist Federation of Australia president Jeremy Leibler called Litzman’s appointment “a slap in the face to the Australian Jewish Community, the Australian people, the community of Australian [immigrants] in Israel and most shockingly to the survivors of Malka Leifer’s alleged abuse.”
Leifer is wanted in Australia on 74 counts of sexual abuse, accusing of attacking girls while she served as principal at a Melbourne Jewish school. She has for years avoided extradition, in part by claiming to be too ill, though police suspect an expert opinion determining her poor health was extracted under pressure from Litzman.
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. Netanyahu denies the charges.
Mandelblit 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 relinquish his other posts.
The High Court of Justice on Tuesday heard a petition seeking to prevent Netanyahu from forming a coalition after the March 2 elections, the third national vote this year, due to the criminal charges. The court has yet to hand down its ruling.
Netanyahu’s move to quit the other posts came hours after he announced that he would ask the Knesset for immunity from prosecution in the three criminal cases against him.
Netanyahu made the statement in a nationally televised appearance four hours before a midnight deadline, defending the decision as protection from “trumped-up charges.”
The premier has been charged with fraud and breach of trust in three criminal cases and bribery in one of them.