Jewish Home wins Justice Ministry, but balks at Likud limitations

Likud negotiators give in to demand from Naftali Bennett that his party receive legal portfolio, but impose restrictions

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

MK Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) at the Knesset on November 10, 2014. (Photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)
MK Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) at the Knesset on November 10, 2014. (Photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Likud party agreed to appoint MK Ayelet Shaked as justice minister Wednesday in a bid to bring her Jewish Home party into the coalition, but negotiations snagged after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu imposed limitations on her power in the position.

The move was meant to pave the way for Netanyahu to garner the 61 seats he needs for his governing coalition, ahead of a midnight deadline to present his government.

However, in making the offer Likud also attempted to clip Shaked’s wings, insisting that she not be able to appoint religious court judges and that she also not chair the Israeli Judicial Committee, the body that appoints judges for the law courts, Hebrew-language news sites reported.

Instead, a Likud minister would head the religious court judges appointment panel, with Shaked, who is nonreligious, and a representative from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party also having their say. The religious courts handle, among other things, matters of marriage and divorce.

Jewish Home indicated, though, that without Shaked retaining leadership of the judicial committee for the law courts, the party will not sign a coalition deal.

Further complicating the negotiations, Housing Minister Uri Ariel reportedly demanded from Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett that he be given the Justice Ministry instead, under pain of him and another two MKs leaving the coalition, which would leave Netanyahu shy of his needed majority, Army Radio reported.

Likud had been loath to give Jewish Home the Justice Ministry, fearing it would use the position to push through controversial reforms weakening the Supreme Court and changing the makeup of the panel that chooses new justices.

Likud officials told Haaretz that there were two problems with giving the Justice Ministry to Jewish Home.

“The first is that the justice minister will soon have to decide on who the next attorney general will be,” one official said. “It’s a very sensitive position, and Netanyahu has no desire to entrust that task to Bennett or Shaked. The second problem is that Shaked is spearheading the battle to change the face of the Supreme Court. Netanyahu has so far avoided going head to head with the court, and he may well not want this headache.”

Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich warned that the developments did not bode well for the legal system.

“Prepare to see a hard and bitter battle for the welfare and identity of the judicial system and law enforcement,” Yachimovich told the Walla news website.

Yachimovich insisted that her criticism of Shaked should not be taken as a comment on Shaked as an individual. “She is capable, but her view of the courts, the judiciary, and the legislature, are the opposite of mine,” she said.

Netanyahu has been scrambling to bring Jewish Home and its eight seats aboard before a midnight Wednesday deadline for him to declare a governing coalition.

However, the nationalist faction upped its demands over the past days, insisting that Shaked be given the Justice Ministry and party leader Naftali Bennett be given a top portfolio — possibly the Foreign Ministry.

As part of the emerging coalition deal both Bennett and Shaked will also likely have seats in the security cabinet, an arrangement the Likud opposes as it will give the Jewish Home party more clout than could be expected for its number of parliamentary seats.

If he succeeds in signing Jewish Home up for his coalition, Netanyahu will have the pieces in place for a razor-thin 61-seat majority, enough to maintain power but not enough to do much else, analysts say.

On Monday, Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman announced his resignation as foreign minister and said his party would refuse to join the coalition.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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