Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday reportedly conveyed messages to ultra-Orthodox allies that the new justice minister, the openly gay Amir Ohana, would not remain in his position for long and that the appointment was made for political reasons.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday confirmed his loyalist Ohana as justice minister in the run-up to elections on September 17. Ohana is a lawyer by training who became the first openly gay MK in a right-wing party when he was elected to the Knesset in 2015.
In announcing his appointment Wednesday, the Likud party noted that he would also be the first openly gay minister in Israel’s history. A Likud spokesperson said Ohana’s appointment meant “the halacha state won’t happen,” in a jab at MK Bezalel Smotrich, who earlier this week said if he is appointed justice minister — as he has consistently demanded — he would aim to eventually make Israel run according to Torah law.
However, the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party was apparently displeased at the insinuation that Ohana’s appointment would have an impact on Israel’s policy on religion and state. The Maariv daily quoted a senior party source on Thursday as saying UTJ wouldn’t let Ohana keep his post for long since the fact that he is gay would oblige him to adopt LGBT-friendly reforms, which are anathema to ultra-Orthodox Jews.
“As long as Ohana’s appointment is temporary, it’s fine,” the source said. “We won’t let this appointment become permanent in the next government in the event Likud wins again.”
“There are many issues such as marriage, parental rights, surrogacy and more that end up on the justice minister’s table, and there can’t be an option of him being there to make the decisions on those matters,” the UTJ source was quoted as saying.
The source was also said to clarify that “we have nothing personally against Ohana, he has worked well in all the committees and all is good. But the fact that he is a member of the [LGBT] community won’t enable him to reject various demands and we won’t agree to that. It won’t happen.”
In response, Channel 12 reported that Netanyahu had conveyed a message to UTJ saying Ohana’s appointment was made as a nod to the LGBT community and to attract more socially liberal voters in the September elections.
Another message the premier reportedly conveyed was that Ohana would be assigned another ministerial post — likely that of communications minister — after the elections.
A Likud spokesperson denied the report and said “no message” had been conveyed to UTJ.
UTJ leaders Yaakov Litzman and Moshe Gafni later also denied having made the reported comments about Ohana, saying that “any anonymous statement that isn’t officially by United Torah Judaism leaders’ spokespersons is irrelevant and insignificant.”
Meanwhile, the head of the Jerusalem Open House, which is organizing the annual Jerusalem Pride Parade on Thursday afternoon, told Army Radio that he was hoping Ohana would show up for the event.
Ofer Erez said organizers had invited all 120 Knesset members to the parade. He said that while Ohana had expressed interest in attending, he hadn’t received confirmation.
Ayelet Shaked formally departed from the Justice Ministry on Tuesday, two days after she was fired by Netanyahu in a cabinet reshuffle that also targeted her political ally education minister Naftali Bennett. The move was widely seen as a bid to prevent the once-popular right-wing duo from using their cabinet positions to bolster their campaigns ahead of the new national vote.
Following Shaked’s dismissal, the position of justice minister reverted to Netanyahu, who as well as prime minister, already holds the defense and health portfolios.
Initially, the Prime Minister’s Office said Netanyahu would temporarily assume the mantles of education and justice minister, but that sparked a backlash, with critics saying he could not hold the latter portfolio with an indictment hanging over his head. His office then backtracked and announced that interim ministers would be named within 48 hours.
Netanyahu is suspected of corruption — including one count of bribery — in three cases, one of which involves gifts from wealthy associates, with the other two involving potential quid pro quo deals for regulatory favors in exchange for positive media coverage.
The prime minister has long accused police, the media, judicial officials and the political left of conducting a witch hunt against him, and has denied any wrongdoing.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.