Netanyahu taps Israel Katz as acting foreign minister

Katz vows to work with PM to promote Israel’s interests abroad; PM gives up portfolio in response to court petition over the number of ministerial positions he held

Transportation and Intelligence Minister Israel Katz arrives at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on April 11, 2018. (Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Pool/Flash90)
Transportation and Intelligence Minister Israel Katz arrives at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on April 11, 2018. (Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Pool/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu named Israel Katz as acting foreign minister on Sunday, two months after having said he would give up the portfolio.

Katz released a statement in which he expressed his gratitude and vowed to work alongside Netanyahu to promote Israel’s interests abroad.

“This is an exciting moment for me. I’m starting today at the Foreign Ministry with a feeling of the greatness of the mission,” Katz tweeted.

“I thank the prime minister for the trust, and I am pleased to head the ministry. We will continue to promote and lead Israel’s foreign policy to further achievements, alongside the prime minister,” Katz wrote.

Yuval Rotem, director general of the ministry, issued a statement welcoming and congratulating Katz on his new role.

“We are confident that the minister will lead us to further achievements in foreign policy. The entire ministry is at the minister’s disposal and we wish him success in his position,” Rotem wrote.

Katz, who is placed third on the Likud party’s slate for April’s elections, is already intelligence and transportation minister.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, thought to have been a frontrunner for the position, offered his congratulations to Katz, telling reporters outside the cabinet meeting that he wished him luck in the position, the Ynet news site reported.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, whose name was also said to have been on the shortlist, also offered his congratulations while noting he would not interfere with the nomination process.

“I congratulate Katz and wish him great success. Of course we are not interfering with how the prime minister divides up the portfolios and appointments,” Erdan said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right), Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (center) and Intelligence and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (left) during a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem in 2016, file photo (Amit Shabi/POOL/Flash90)

Netanyahu announced on Thursday that he would name the new acting minister in response to a petition filed at the High Court of Justice over the number of ministerial portfolios he holds. In addition to serving as prime minister, Netanyahu is also Israel’s defense, foreign and health minister.

The petition by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel was filed in December, when Netanyahu also held the immigration and absorption portfolio. Yoav Gallant has since been appointed to head that ministry.

The Movement for Quality Government said it welcomed the apparent plan to appoint a new minister to head Israeli diplomacy, though it noted the move only came under the threat of legal proceedings at the High Court.

“In our opinion, it is inappropriate that the prime minister came to a situation where he held such a large number of important portfolios, among them foreign and defense… we hope this unacceptable situation will not happen again,” it added.

Netanyahu has served as foreign minister since the formation of his government in 2015, a move that he initially justified by claiming he was keeping the position for then Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog, in an attempt to entice him into joining the government.

Several members of the prime minister’s own party were furious at the time that he did not appoint one of them as foreign minister, with senior Likud ministers Gilad Erdan and Katz claiming to have been promised the portfolio.

In November, Netanyahu announced he would keep the defense portfolio for himself following Avigdor Liberman’s resignation, saying Israel was in the “midst of a military campaign.”

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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