Hours after a unanimous cabinet vote approved Avigdor Liberman as defense minister, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed criticism of the move, calling on other parties to follow suit and join his coalition.
Speaking Monday at a meeting of his Likud faction, Netanyahu said all those dedicated to Israel’s peace and security should join the coalition.
“A broad government headed by Likud will continue with its responsible policy, firm on security while equally looking for paths to peace, in particular on the regional path,” he said, alluding to recent overtures from parts of the Sunni Arab world. “I call for the government to expand and urge all those who wish to offer support to the challenges of peace and security to join and give it a chance.”
The prime minister’s appeal came ahead of a Knesset vote to approve Liberman’s appointment as part of a deal to bring his five-seat Yisrael Beytenu faction into the coalition. The Knesset will also vote on the appointment of Yisrael Beytenu’s Sofa Landver as immigrant absorption minister, and Likud member Tzachi Hanegbi as minister without portfolio.
Speaking during the Zionist Union faction meeting, opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog slammed the new coalition and called on Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to heed his “inner truth” and leave the government, a move he said would be the “moral choice.”
“This is the moment when you can… thwart the greatest danger ever, which is now at our doorstep,” Herzog said, addressing Kahlon, the leader of the Kulanu party.
“I extend a hand to you, Moshe Kahlon,” he added. “I know how worried you are and how pure were your intentions. Only you are able to make the moral choice. Do not hesitate any longer. This is your moment of truth.”
Kahlon said on Sunday that he had no intention of bringing down the ruling coalition, days after Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay, one of Kulanu’s founders, resigned to protest the “extremist” government he said was leading Israel to destruction.
“The government will last,” Kahlon told Israel Radio.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid also criticized Monday the deal to bring Yisrael Beytenu into the government, accusing coalition politicians of pursuing self-interest.
“Our politics is busy with itself, with appointments, cronies and totally unnecessary ego battles,” Lapid told his faction meeting.
He called the appointment of Hangebi as a minister without portfolio “a waste of public money.”
Liberman’s appointment came after late-night talks led to the resolution of a coalition crisis that threatened to topple Netanyahu’s government over a demand by Jewish Home party head Naftali Bennett for an overhaul to the security cabinet.
Bennett, a senior cabinet member, had threatened to vote against the appointment of Liberman — thus torpedoing the coalition deal Likud and Yisrael Beytenu signed last week — if his demand for greater intelligence-sharing in the high-level security cabinet was not met.
He wanted Netanyahu to appoint a military attaché for the sensitive, 10-member inner cabinet committee to provide ministers with real-time security updates, coordinate additional fact-finding visits to IDF bases and other military zones, and facilitate easier access to classified information.
Netanyahu on Sunday accepted a proposal put forth by Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (UTJ) that acting head of the National Security Council Brigadier General (ret.) Yaakov Nagel, or his deputy, temporarily act as a military attaché to the cabinet.
Bennett’s threat had initially prompted the Knesset to postpone a vote scheduled for Monday to approve Liberman’s appointment. The vote was later reinstated.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.