The government officially informed the Knesset Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has appointed himself welfare minister following the resignation of Haim Katz last month over looming graft charges.
Choosing not to name another member of his Likud party to the position, Netanyahu now holds four portfolios in addition to the premiership: defense, health, welfare and Diaspora.
Netanyahu named Israel Katz to replace him as foreign minister in May in response to a petition filed at the High Court of Justice over the number of ministerial portfolios he holds. He initially justified keeping the Foreign Ministry for himself after the 2015 election by claiming he was saving the position for then-Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog, in an attempt to entice him into joining the government. That did not transpire.
In November, Netanyahu announced he would keep the defense portfolio for himself following Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman’s resignation from the government, saying Israel was in the “midst of a military campaign.”
Haim Katz resigned as welfare minister last month after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced that he plans to indict him on fraud and breach of trust charges.
Following Katz’s resignation, Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely, who currently serves as deputy foreign minister, said she expected to be appointed to the post. She added that she hoped Katz would be acquitted of any wrongdoing.
The attorney general informed Katz he would have to resign over the pending indictment, a practice established in the 1990s with the court-upheld resignations of indicted cabinet members Aryeh Deri and Raphael Pinhasi.
Katz, who will remain an MK, is expected to seek parliamentary immunity from the Knesset ahead of the September 17 election, but it’s not clear if he will succeed. The current 21st Knesset, elected on April 9, never staffed its committees, and so doesn’t have a standing House Committee to which Katz can appeal for immunity, as the law requires.
Katz is one of four cabinet members known to be facing possible criminal charges, along with Netanyahu, Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri. Likud MK David Bitan is also being investigated on possible bribery charges.