Incoming transportation minister Miri Regev on Thursday informed the ministry’s director-general, Keren Terner Eyal, who is on maternity leave, that she would be removed from the post when Regev takes over the portfolio on Sunday.
Regev told Terner Eyal in a Thursday night telephone call that she would be replaced, Terner Eyal told ministry employees. Responding to criticism of the move, Regev later said it was common practice and urged the “bleeding hearts” complaining about it to “calm down.”
The call with Terner Eyal came about an hour after the announcement that Regev would take over the ministry, but ahead of the swearing-in of the new government, which is set for Sunday.
Terner Eyal said in a message to Transportation Ministry employees: “The incoming Minister Regev called me and informed me that on Sunday a new director-general is coming in.”
On Friday Terner Eyal downplayed the issue, saying that it was normal for incoming ministers to replace director-generals. “I would not want to remain director-general just because of the important maternity leave legal protections.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would appoint Regev to the position on Thursday as he struggled to placate senior Likud lawmakers with a limited number of available cabinet posts. The swearing-in of the new government was delayed from Thursday to Sunday due to the Likud party infighting.
Terner Eyal is a candidate for director-general of the Finance Ministry after Shai Babad said he was leaving the position, a report on the Ynet news site said. Terner Eyal came to the Transportation Ministry after working in the budget department of the Finance Ministry.
Former transportation minister Israel Katz appointed Terner Eyal to the position in 2016, making her the first woman to hold the office. She gave birth to her third child a month ago.
Attorney Sigal Pail, a specialist in labor laws, said: “This is illegal. Labor laws for women set a period of time that is protected from harm to working conditions, and definitely from getting fired. The protected period of time is 60 days from the end of the delivery and it’s not permissible to fire a worker without a permit from the commissioner for women’s labor laws.”
An incensed Regev said in response to the report that “It is well known that every minister arriving at a new ministry appoints a trusted person as their director-general, in order to promote the worldview of the new minister.” She said her conversation with Terner Eyal had been “good-natured” and that she had not wanted her to learn of the decision in the media.
“Before speaking to her I spoke with the civil service commissioner to ensure that all her rights will be maintained, and so it will be,” she added. “So all the bleeding hearts and tut-tutters might want to tell the truth and calm down a bit.”
Outgoing Transportation Minister Bezalal Smotrich praised Terner Eyal on Twitter.
“Behind the engine that is called the government there are public workers that are excellent and dedicated. The best of them is called [Keren Terner Eyal], the great director of the transportation ministry that I was privileged to work alongside with and learn from,” he wrote.
Smotrich’s Yamina alliance of right-wing parties is at odds with Netanyahu’s Likud after the two parties failed to reach an agreement for Yamina to join the new government. Yamina leader Naftali Bennett on Thursday accused Netanyahu of deliberately edging him out, while Likud has berated Bennett for what it described as excessive political demands that did not align with Yamina’s mere six Knesset seats.
Yamina MK Rafi Peretz bolted from the party on Thursday to serve as Jerusalem affairs minister in the new government.
A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office on Thursday said that Regev, the current culture and sports minister, would be appointed minister of transportation and national infrastructure in the new government, and then become foreign minister in November 2021, when Blue and White leader Benny Gantz takes his turn as prime minister according to the power-sharing agreement he signed with Netanyahu.
Netanyahu said Regev would also be a member of the top-level security cabinet. In addition, she would be in charge of Israel’s hasbara (public diplomacy) center as well as a member of the Judicial Appointments Committee.
Regev was earlier reported to be unhappy with only becoming transportation minister, having expected a more senior position, apparently prompting Netanyahu to upgrade his offer to her.
The unity government was set to be sworn in Thursday evening, but the ceremony was delayed until Sunday as Netanyahu struggled to divvy out the remaining available ministerial posts in his incoming coalition to lawmakers from his own party.
Numerous Likud MKs, some of them ministers and veteran lawmakers, were privately and in some cases publicly rebelling against Netanyahu, furious that they had been offered minor government positions or no post at all.
The Likud and Blue and White parties have until midnight on Wednesday to swear in their government before new elections are automatically triggered. Most analysts believe Netanyahu will prove able to deal with the crisis, and that the coalition will be sworn in next week.
The government is set to be composed of Likud, Blue and White, Labor, Gesher, United Torah Judaism and Shas. It will see Netanyahu and Blue and White’s Benny Gantz “rotate” the premiership, with the latter serving as defense minister for the first 18 months.
Yesh Atid-Telem leader Yair Lapid — Gantz’s former Blue and White ally — is set to become opposition leader. Also in the opposition: the Joint List of mainly Arab parties, left-wing Meretz, right-wing Yisrael Beytenu and Yamina. The coalition will bring to an end 18 months of political turmoil, with three inconclusive elections.