Netanyahu vows Likud will keep Education Ministry in next cabinet
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Netanyahu vows Likud will keep Education Ministry in next cabinet

Politicians on both the right and the left have zeroed in on the portfolio; PM had reportedly promised the job to far-right MK Smotrich

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Likud candidate Gideon Sa'ar as he arrives for a Likud faction meeting at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem on March 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Likud candidate Gideon Sa'ar as he arrives for a Likud faction meeting at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem on March 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that he was planning to appoint the next education minister from among the ranks of his Likud party.

The education portfolio is currently held by Naftali Bennett, now the co-head of the New Right party, although he was leader of the Jewish Home party when he was given the ministry in 2015. Bennett has set his sights on the position of defense minister after the elections.

Netanyahu’s comments, made at the weekly Likud faction meeting, came as various parliamentary hopefuls have said they will make a play for the Education Ministry after the April 9 vote.

“If we form the next government, Likud will keep the Education Ministry,” Netanyahu said at the meeting, held at the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem, which celebrates the life of Likud-founder and former prime minister Menachem Begin. The meeting was held there in commemoration of the anniversary of Begin’s death on March 9.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations gathering in Jerusalem, February 18, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Education, Netanyahu said, “is the important thing that we aspire to do, to continue to instill Zionism and excellence in every child in Israel.”

Several politicians have expressed an interest in becoming education minister, including two on the ultra-nationalist right — National Union leader Bezalel Smotrich of Jewish Home and Zehut party chief Moshe Feiglin.

Meretz party leader MK Tamar Zandberg declared Monday that she too wants her party to have the education portfolio, along with justice, in the next government. However, left-wing Meretz would not join a coalition with Netanyahu at the helm.

At a conference Sunday, Smotrich said he would combat the “indoctrination” of liberal democracy in Israeli schools if appointed the next education minister. He also said that he would not invest in educationally impoverished areas, since “there will always be gaps” and “I’m not a communist.”

Leaders of the opposition Blue and White party, Likud’s leading election rival, have said Netanyahu promised Smotrich the education portfolio as part of a deal the prime minister brokered last month to bring the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party into the new Union of Right Wing Parties ahead of the elections, which includes Smotrich’s National Union faction.

Head of the National Union party MK Bezalel Smotrich speaks during an event of the Movement for the Quality of Government, in Modiin, February 4, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Speaking to Channel 12 on Sunday evening, Feiglin declared, “ I will go where we can have the most impact. We have our eye on the Finance and Education ministries, where we will be able to implement our platform.”

Although recent polls have indicated that the new centrist Blue and White slate will win more seats than Likud, it is still likely to struggle to cobble together a majority coalition of 61 out of 120 Knesset seats. Netanyahu, leading the Likud, may be better positioned to form a government but would need to rely on various smaller right-wing parties, giving them additional clout in coalition talks.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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