Druze minister sworn in by Knesset in minor cabinet reshuffle

Ayoub Kara, 61, a veteran Likud MK and ex-IDF major, is Israel’s second-ever Druze minister

Likud MK Ayoub Kara attends a meeting at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem on December 30, 2015. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)
Likud MK Ayoub Kara attends a meeting at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem on December 30, 2015. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

The cabinet on Monday approved two new ministers, including the second member of the Druze community to serve as a minister.

The nomination as minister-without-portfolio of Ayoub Kara, a Druze-Israeli and member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party, was approved by a Knesset vote of 45 to 33.

MK Eli Cohen of the Kulanu party was also approved and sworn in as Economy Minister, taking over the post from his party leader, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon.

Kara, 61, from Daliat al-Karmel near Haifa in northern Israel, was a major in the IDF and was discharged with post-traumatic stress disorder. His father fought in the IDF in the 1948 War of Independence and two of his bothers were killed in the IDF during the 1982 Lebanon War.

Salah Tarif, another member of the Druze community, was the first non-Jew to serve as a minister, when he was appointed by Ariel Sharon in 2001. However, he resigned a short time later after being charged with bribery and breach of trust.

Kara, a veteran Likud MK, had been serving as deputy minister of regional cooperation.

Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria will replace Cohen as the chair of the Knesset Reform Committee.

As part of a minor cabinet reshuffle, Netanyahu confidant Tzachi Hanegbi was appointed minister of regional cooperation last month.

The-then Chair of the Knesset Reform Committee MK Eli Cohen (Kulanu) leads a meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, December 14, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
The-then chair of the Knesset Reform Committee MK Eli Cohen (Kulanu) leads a meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, December 14, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Kara has been lobbying for a ministerial post since the formation of the coalition in 2015 and especially since Hanegbi took up the regional cooperation post. Kara said in an interview earlier this month in The Marker that he couldn’t fathom why Netanyahu “doesn’t appoint me as minister. It’s in his interest before it’s in mine. I don’t understand and can’t explain.”

Kara has caused controversy in the past. In November he posted to his Facebook page details of a security-related incident involving the Jewish state, all details of which are still under a gag order. The post was quickly taken down, but not before journalists and others saw the information.

A month earlier Kara drew condemnation from the Foreign Ministry when, during a visit to Italy, he suggested that powerful earthquakes in that country were divine retribution for anti-Israel actions in the United Nations.

Speaking on the same day the UN’s culture body UNESCO voted for a resolution whitewashing any Jewish connection to the Temple Mount, Kara said during a visit to the Vatican that “I am sure that the earthquake happened because of UNESCO’s decision that the pope really didn’t love; and (Francis) even publicly expressed that the Holy Land belongs to the Jewish people.”

Kara’s statement, made days before a state visit by Italian President Sergio Mattarella to Israel, provoked outrage in Italy. He later apologized for the comments and was summoned for a talking to by Netanyahu.

Regional Cooperation Minister Tzahi Hanegbi speaks during a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, December 28, 2016. (Ohad Zwigenberg)
Regional Cooperation Minister Tzahi Hanegbi speaks during a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, December 28, 2016. (Ohad Zwigenberg)

Druze constitute a small minority, not quite 10 percent, of Israel’s Arab population, itself some 22% of the Israeli populace. Around 138,000 of the world’s estimated 2.3 million adherents call Israel home; Syria is home to half a million and Lebanon to another 250,000.

The cabinet changes came after opposition Yesh Atid party last year submitted a petition to the High Court against the number of portfolios that Netanyahu had reserved for himself at the time: health, regional cooperation, communications and foreign affairs, as well as the prime ministership.

The court ruled 4-1 that the prime minister could continue holding all four portfolios, but three justices gave the prime minister eight months to reduce the load, saying they might review the situation if he did not.

The justices said that it was hard to believe that Netanyahu could properly manage so many ministries and that the situation was not appropriate in a democracy.

Soon afterwards, Netanyahu gave the health portfolio to Yaakov Litzman of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party.

The prime minister retains the communications and foreign ministry posts.

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