Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday confirmed loyalist Amir Ohana as justice minister in the run-up to elections on the September 17.
Ayelet Shaked formally departed from the Justice Ministry on Tuesday, two days after she was fired by Netanyahu in a cabinet reshuffle that also targeted her political ally education minister Naftali Bennett. The move was widely seen as a bid to prevent the once-popular right-wing duo from using their cabinet positions to bolster their campaigns ahead of the new national vote.
Ohana is a lawyer by training who became the first openly gay MK in a right-wing party when he was elected to the Knesset in 2015. In announcing his appointment Wednesday, the Likud party noted that he would also be the first openly gay minister in Israel’s history.
“Good luck to Justice Minister MK Amir Ohana!” Netanyahu tweeted Wednesday evening.
Thanking the prime minister, Ohana said in a tweet that it was “a great honor to serve the State of Israel in the role of justice minister.”
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) June 5, 2019
Ohana is among the only senior members of Likud to have publicly backed Netanyahu’s drive to secure immunity from prosecution in the cases against him. Earlier this year, he struck out at legal authorities over the Netanyahu investigations, charging that judicial officials, who have announced their intention to charge the prime minister pending a hearing, were usurping the will of the Israeli voters.
“This is what happens when bureaucrats who are not chosen by the public and don’t have to ask for its trust once every four years decide to take for themselves the reins of the state,” he was quoted as saying by the Ynet news site.
Netanyahu is suspected of corruption — including one count of bribery — in three cases, one of which involves gifts from wealthy associates, with the other two involving potential quid pro quo deals for regulatory favors in exchange for positive media coverage.
The prime minister has long accused police, the media, judicial officials and the political left of conducting a witch hunt against him, and has denied any wrongdoing.
Following Shaked’s dismissal, the position of justice minister reverted to Netanyahu, who as well as prime minister, already holds the defense and health portfolios.
Initially, the Prime Minister’s Office said Netanyahu would temporarily assume the mantles of education and justice minister, but that sparked a backlash, with critics saying he could not hold the latter portfolio with an indictment hanging over his head. His office then backtracked and announced that interim ministers would be named within 48 hours.
Bezalel Smotrich of the Union of Right-Wing Parties on Monday called on Netanyahu to appoint him as Shaked’s replacement, later saying he wanted to impose Jewish religious law on the country. In response, Likud sources were quoted as saying there was no chance Smotrich would get the position after his comments, which Netanyahu also criticized in a Facebook post.
Likud’s Yariv Levin, currently minister of tourism as well as immigration and absorption, has long been angling for the Justice Ministry, but on Sunday said he had no interest in serving there in an interim capacity ahead of the elections.
After Wednesday’s announcement, Smotrich tweeted that Ohana was a friend and worthy recipient of the post, but charged that Netanyahu was discriminating against his religious Zionist partners.
“But he isn’t the story,” he added. “The story is that Netanyahu wouldn’t treat any of his other partners like he allows himself to treat religious Zionists.”
“The time has come to draw our own conclusions,” said Smotrich, who had also demanded to be appointed justice minister in the wake of the April 9 elections.
Shaked wished Ohana luck, tweeting, “It is an important and challenging ministry with the most talented staff. I’m at his disposal for any help or questions.”
On May 29, the Knesset voted to disband and called new elections for September 17 after Netanyahu failed to build a coalition due to an impasse between the secular Yisrael Beytenu party and ultra-Orthodox parties.
Given the seven-day post-election advisory period for the president’s appointing a PM-designate, and the roughly seven-week period usually granted to premiers to negotiate a coalition, Ohana could serve in the position well into mid-November.