MKs across party lines slam apparent holdup

Report: Appointment of northern rehabilitation czar delayed amid Likud machinations

PM said to reconsider picking Diaspora Ministry head for role amid reports he’s seen as insufficiently loyal; MK denies claim she is trying to have her son appointed instead

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

Director-General of the Diaspora Affairs Ministry Avi Cohen-Scali (Diaspora Affairs Ministry)
Director-General of the Diaspora Affairs Ministry Avi Cohen-Scali (Diaspora Affairs Ministry)

Members of the ruling Likud party are trying to halt the appointment of Avi Cohen-Scali as the official in charge of the rehabilitation of northern communities damaged in border clashes, leading Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to delay final approval of the pick, Hebrew media reported Thursday.

The Kan public broadcaster reported Wednesday that Netanyahu was reconsidering Cohen-Scali for the role due to pressure from various people within his circle, only a day after officials in his office said the prime minister had made the choice.

The Prime Minister’s Office said in response to the report that a final decision had yet to be made.

Cohen-Scali currently serves as the director general of the Diaspora Affairs Ministry and previously served in that role at the Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Ministry, as well as in other senior bureaucratic roles.

Unnamed officials in the Prime Minister’s Office told Kan on Thursday that they were considering Moshe Shitrit, the son of Likud MK Keti Shitrit, for the role. The lawmaker’s office denied the report, as did Shitrit himself, who is currently serving on the Beit Shemesh local council.

Kan also reported that former MK Osnat Mark, an associate of Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, had acted to thwart Cohen-Scali’s posting. The Ynet news outlet reported that Mark had informed the heads of local councils in the north that Cohen-Scali’s appointment had been canceled.

Unnamed senior officials told the Ynet that Mark’s behavior was “embarrassing” and accused her of trying to sabotage the appointment for “personal reasons.”

The outlet cited unnamed political officials as saying Cohen-Scali was seen as “not sufficiently loyal” to the ruling party Likud, due to his wife’s support for Aliza Bloch, the former mayor of Beit Shemesh. Bloch lost her reelection bid earlier this year to a Haredi candidate and had not been supported by Likud.

Then-MK Osnat Mark speaks during a discussion to vote on a bill to dissolve parliament, during a Knesset Committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on December 26, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Speaking to Ynet, officials in the Prime Minister’s Office asserted that the appointment will be finalized by next week and that reports on disputes surrounding the move were being misinterpreted.

The reports of a delay sparked a backlash among both coalition and opposition lawmakers, who supported the appointment as a crucial step in the north’s reconstruction.

Negev and Galilee Minister Yitzhak Wasserlauf said the post should have been  filled a long time ago.

“Avi Cohen-Scali is the kind of professional we need at a time like this. Every minute of delay in the appointment shows contempt for evacuated northern residents,” Wasserlauf said in a statement, urging the prime minister to quickly name him to the role.

Immigration and Absorption Minister Ofir Sofer said it was important that a professional like Cohen-Scali be chosen to tackle the challenges faced by communities.

“I was happy to hear the announcement of his appointment and approved of it. I promised him that I would stand beside him in his important task of immediately taking care of evacuees and future rehabilitation. I hope the appointment will be approved,” he said in a statement.

Rockets fired from Lebanon into the northern city of Kiryat Shmona, June 19, 2024. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

Opposition Labor party chief Yair Golan said the failure to appoint Cohen-Scali “demonstrates the scandalous priorities of the negligent government.”

Golan said the appointment had become mired in “corruption, lawlessness and dangerous amateurism.”

“The citizens of Israel deserve more. Everyone deserves a government that deals with the restoration of security and rehabilitation of the hardships faced by citizens, here and now,” Golan said, and promised to work to do so.

National Unity chief Benny Gantz wrote on X: “Netanyahu doesn’t meet with heads of northern councils, isn’t prepared to commit to returning northern residents safely, and now he isn’t prepared to take care of them before he takes care of jobs for Likud members.

“Netanyahu is abandoning the north. It is impossible to manage a war like this,” he added.

After a series of delays, the government approved a NIS 6.5 billion program for rehabilitating the north, including a NIS 3 billion package for immediate implementation at the end of May.

Tens of thousands of residents of towns and villages along Israel’s northern border have been forced from their homes since October due to near-daily cross-border rocket and anti-tank missile attacks by Hezbollah and other terrorists in southern Lebanon.

So far, the skirmishes on the border have resulted in 10 civilian deaths on the Israeli side, as well as the deaths of 15 IDF soldiers and reservists. There have also been several attacks from Syria, without any injuries.

Hezbollah has named 348 members who have been killed by Israel during the ongoing skirmishes, mostly in Lebanon but some also in Syria. In Lebanon, another 63 operatives from other terror groups, a Lebanese soldier, and dozens of civilians have been killed.

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