Likud’s Amsalem appears to walk back Justice Ministry demand, backs Levin for post

Firebrand MK says he will support fellow party lawmaker but continue to push for judicial reform; Netanyahu to begin coalition negotiation meetings in Jerusalem

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

MK Yariv Levin (L) and MK David Amsalem during a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset on December 25, 2017 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
MK Yariv Levin (L) and MK David Amsalem during a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset on December 25, 2017 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Likud MK David Amsalem appeared on Sunday to backtrack from his emphatic demand that he be given the job of justice minister in the next government.

“I’ll be more than happy if [fellow Likud MK] Yariv Levin is appointed the next justice minister of the State of Israel,” Amsalem tweeted on Sunday morning. “The job doesn’t matter; what matters is the goal of all of us to advance the necessary reforms in the justice system for the citizens of Israel.”

Amsalem added that he would work to support Levin from the Knesset “happily, proudly and with great love.”

Amsalem, known for his brash style, reportedly told other party members at an event last week: “I will only be justice minister. If not, I’ll be on his case for four years,” referring to Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu.

Amsalem denied the quote, although sources close to the MK, who had the fifth slot on Likud’s electoral slate in the November 1 election, confirmed his exclusive interest in the justice portfolio.

Levin is behind the Likud party’s judicial reform agenda, which he has advocated for since his days as a lawyer, and has said that he believes the justice system needs “fundamental change.”

Earlier this year Levin, a Netanyahu ally, said his goal was to end the “rule by judges” and to constrict the role of the attorney general.

Likud party head Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and faction chair Yariv Levin (R) lead their party’s faction meeting at the Knesset, May 23, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Right-wing politicians have long sought to water down judges’ ability to strike down legislation, alleging that the Supreme Court is a bastion of left-wing ideology.

Religious Zionism chief Bezalel Smotrich has also reportedly expressed interest in the job of justice minister. Ahead of the election, Smotrich unveiled a plan to drastically overhaul Israel’s justice system.

Netanyahu has invited the leaders of his right-wing and religious bloc for individual meetings on Sunday in Jerusalem, his office said Saturday, as informal talks on forming Israel’s next government begin.

Chairman of the Religious Zionism party MK Bezalel Smotrich presents his party’s “Law and Justice” program during a press conference in Kfar Maccabiah in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

According to the Ynet news outlet, Levin is most likely to get the job of justice minister, with Amsalem unlikely to receive any cabinet post.

The report indicated that Likud MK Amir Ohana will become foreign minister, Yoav Kisch will get the health portfolio, Miri Regev will return to the Transportation Ministry and Miki Zohar will receive the job of culture minister.

Many lawmakers in the bloc of parties loyal to Netanyahu have indicated a desire to implement major reforms in the judicial system, including some that could lead to the termination of the former prime minister’s ongoing criminal trial.

Late on Saturday, Amsalem tweeted that “if we don’t advance judicial reform… there is no reason to establish a [right-wing nationalist] government, if it’s just to allocate jobs. The public and Likud voters sent us to govern — promises must be kept!”

Ahead of the election, Amsalem called for imprisoning all those involved in putting Netanyahu on trial for corruption, including the former attorney general and state prosecutor.

Amsalem also said he backs eliminating the criminal offense of “breach of trust” — a key accusation against Netanyahu in his ongoing criminal trial. He said the ongoing cases against Netanyahu had been rigged and “everyone” responsible “needs to sit in prison” — specifically naming former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit and former state prosecutor Shai Nitzan.

Former prime minister MK Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing in his trial, at the District Court in Jerusalem on May 17, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Smotrich’s proposed reform plan also calls for abolishing the offense of “fraud and breach of trust,” which the Religious Zionism leader argued enables legal officials to interfere in the political system.

The Likud party has repeatedly claimed that any such reforms would not retroactively be applied to the Netanyahu case.

Breach of trust refers to an offense committed by a public servant in which that individual misuses their authority and the trust placed in them by the public. It has at times been criticized for being overly vague.

Netanyahu is accused of illicit dealings with wealthy billionaires and media moguls for his personal benefit during his time in power in three cases.

He faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in all three cases and a charge of bribery in one. Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing and claims the charges were the result of a witch hunt by police, legal authorities and the media.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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