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Appointments come amid mini-rebellion by Likud lawmakers

Netanyahu names loyalist Ohana to public security post, despite police concerns

Officials fear staunch ally of PM will look out for his interests as head of law enforcement; Miri Regev tapped as transportation minister, to become foreign minister in 18 months

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) seen with MK Amir Ohana at a Likud party meeting in the Knesset on January 11, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) seen with MK Amir Ohana at a Likud party meeting in the Knesset on January 11, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided Thursday to appoint Amir Ohana, the outgoing acting justice minister, as public security minister in the new government scheduled to be sworn in on Sunday, despite top police officials expressing concerns over the implications of such an appointment.

Ohana had been widely expected to receive the public security post, which oversees law enforcement, including the police, prison service and Fire and Rescue Authority.

Ohana, a close Netanyahu ally, has served as justice minister since June of last year. During his tenure, he repeatedly criticized the justice system and those leading it as they pushed ahead with criminal investigations, and eventually an indictment, of the premier.

Police brass told Channel 12 Wednesday they feared that as public security minister, Ohana would seek an outside candidate to lead the force, while conferring with Netanyahu, despite the prime minister being required to stay out of the matter due to his upcoming trial.

They were also concerned Ohana could move to curtail the work of the Lahav 433 investigation unit, which focuses on fraud and corruption, and led the probes against Netanyahu. And they were worried about the repercussions should Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit decide on a new police investigation into Netanyahu.

A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office also said Netanyahu had tapped Likud MK Gadi Yevarkan, who defected last year from the then-rival Blue and White party, as deputy public security minister. Yevarkan, who emigrated from Ethiopia, will also be in charge of the absorption of immigrants from that country.

Culture and Sport Miri Regev arrives for a press conference in Jerusalem, April 22, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A separate statement said Miri 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 becoming transportation minister, having expected a more senior position, apparently prompting Netanyahu to upgrade his offer to her.

MK Miki Zohar will be made coalition whip as head of the Likud Knesset faction, Netanyahu also announced.

Like Ohana a staunch ally of the premier, Zohar will be “the first in line” to get a ministerial role in 18 months if one frees up, Netanyahu said. If no such position becomes available, he will be tapped as chairman of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

Many more appointments were expected to be announced Thursday by Netanyahu ahead of the swearing-in that had been scheduled for the evening, but the ceremony was pushed off to Sunday at 1 p.m. after the premier struggled to divvy out the remaining available ministerial posts in his incoming coalition to lawmakers of his right-wing bloc.

After the delay was announced, Gantz told the Knesset that he was withdrawing his resignation as speaker of parliament, a move that would have allowed Likud’s Yariv Levin to take up the position. Retaining the speakership ostensibly gives Gantz leverage over Netanyahu to prevent him from canceling the swearing-in altogether and forcing fourth elections.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sign their unity government agreement on April 20, 2020 (courtesy)

Both Netanyahu and Gantz, who will serve as alternate prime minister and defense minister for the first 18 months of the soon-to-be formed government, were spending Thursday appointing lawmakers from their respective blocs to ministerial posts.

But while Gantz’s appointments went forward smoothly, albeit at the last minute, Netanyahu faced a growing number of lawmakers who were refusing the positions he was offering them on the grounds that they represented less than what the Likud leader had promised in the past.

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.

Thus far, apart from the Ohana, Regev and Yevarkan appointments, Likud’s Yuli Edelstein has been appointed health minister, Israel Katz has been named finance minister, Ofir Akunis has been tapped as regional affairs minister, and Levin has been nominated Knesset speaker.

Former Likud minister Haim Katz, who is under criminal indictment and cannot be appointed a minister, will head up the Knesset’s Labor and Welfare Committee. That post was held by Katz from 2005 to 2006 and again from 2009 to 2013, during which time he allegedly perpetrated the fraud and breach of trust for which he will stand trial.

Likud MK Haim Katz during a Knesset House Committee discussion of his request for parliamentary immunity, February 4, 2020. (Adina Veldman/Knesset)

Netanyahu offered outgoing Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel the position of “minister of higher education,” a new post that would split the Education Ministry. However, the Likud MK, who has been rallying members of the party to back her for education minister, turned down the less substantial offer, apparently unwilling to settle for anything less.

Before the swearing-in was pushed off Thursday, two senior Likud members — former Shin Bet chief Dichter and longtime Netanyahu ally and current-Regional Cooperation Minister Hanegbi — announced they would not attend the ceremony due to having been subbed by the prime minister.

“The disrespect is not only to me, but a spit in the face to 130,000 Likud members who chose me in the top ten in Likud,” Dichter told close associates after Netanyahu informed him that he would not be receiving a portfolio in the new government. “I didn’t even get the courtesy of a hint of a meeting” with Netanyahu, Dichter later said in a TV interview.

“As of right now, minutes before the government’s swearing-in, I have not yet been invited to discussions on the new government. I guess I am not needed in the Knesset tonight,” said Hanegbi.

Under the coalition deal signed last month between Likud and Blue and White, the new government will initially have at least 32 ministers — divided equally between the Netanyahu- and Gantz-led blocs — before swelling to 36 in six months in what would be the largest government in Israel’s history.

Netanyahu late Wednesday and early Thursday signed coalition agreements with his long-time ultra-Orthodox allies, United Torah Judaism and Shas, as well as the right-wing Gesher.

Shas leader Aryeh Deri will remain interior minister as part of his deal with Likud. Deri also announced Wednesday that Rabbi Yaakov Avitan, an Ashkelon city council member for Shas who is not a Knesset member, will be tapped as religious affairs minister. United Torah Judaism leader Yaakov Litzman will become housing minister.

Gesher leader Orly Levy-Abekasis also signed a coalition deal with Netanyahu, which will see her head the newly created Community Empowerment and Advancement Ministry.

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