In about-face, PM expected to drop Justice Ministry post due to legal woes
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In about-face, PM expected to drop Justice Ministry post due to legal woes

Judicial officials said to warn Netanyahu’s plan to stay on as acting minister for at least a week would be conflict of interest due to looming corruption charges

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a Jerusalem Day celebration at Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, on June 2, 2019. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a Jerusalem Day celebration at Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, on June 2, 2019. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to tap a new interim justice minister on Tuesday, after legal officials reportedly informed him that he could not serve as acting minister of the office that is set to indict him, pending a hearing.

After firing justice minister Ayelet Shaked and education minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday, Netanyahu initially said he would fill their positions immediately. But by Monday morning, his spokesman told reporters that the prime minister would wait until next week to make the appointments in order to consult with colleagues in the Likud and other right wing-parties.

The announcement reportedly sparked outrage among law enforcement officials, who argued Netanyahu serving as justice minister would constitute a conflict of interest.

Netanyahu is facing indictment on three counts of fraud and breach of trust, and one of bribery, pending the hearing — his final opportunity to persuade the attorney general not to file charges against him. The hearing was originally set for July, but was postponed earlier this month to October 2-3, with the possibility of a final session a week later. Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.

Following Monday afternoon consultations with Justice Ministry officials, who told the prime minister that he could not hold on to the post for even a single day due to the corruption allegations, Netanyahu was expected to reverse his decision to delay the appointment, and instead hand the portfolio to a colleague on Tuesday, Channel 13 reported.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, left, and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked at a ceremony in Jerusalem on June 13, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

The Channel 13 report did not specify whether he would appoint a new acting education minister on Tuesday as well.

MKs Rafi Peretz and Bezalel Smotrich from the Union of Right-Wing Parties have urged Netanyahu to appoint them as education and justice ministers, respectively, in place of Bennett and Shaked. The URWP was one of the parties that sought to form a coalition with Netanyahu after his Likud party won the most votes in the April elections.

Smotrich sparked a firestorm on Monday after saying the Israeli justice system should adhere to Jewish religious law. Netanyahu distanced himself from Smotrich’s remarks, tweeting: “The State of Israel will not be a halacha [Jewish religious law] state.”

The prime minister is believed to prefer Likud minister Yariv Levin for the job of justice minister.

Netanyahu is also defense and health minister.

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