Report: PM blocked MK who seeks Torah rule from serving as Diaspora minister

Report: PM blocked MK who seeks Torah rule from serving as Diaspora minister

Netanyahu ally also said to inform Smotrich he was passed over for Justice Ministry because it is key to the premier’s future

National Union MK Bezalel Smotrich, at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on March 27, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
National Union MK Bezalel Smotrich, at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on March 27, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

After his bid to be appointed justice minister was quashed last week, Union of Right-Wing Parties No. 2 Bezalel Smotrich met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and reportedly demanded two portfolios in the interim government: Diaspora Affairs and Transportation.

According to a report Monday by Channel 13 news, Netanyahu dismissed the hardline MK’s request to head the Diaspora Affairs Ministry outright, wary of sparking additional tension with Jews abroad by appointing a lawmaker who last week expressed desire for Israel to “return to the days of David,” when it was governed by Jewish law.

The second post Smotrich demanded, transportation minister, is expected to be given to him by the premier, the report said. It said that Netanyahu has also offered Smotrich the Strategic Affairs Ministry, which Gilad Erdan is expected to depart shortly.

Meanwhile, the Kan public broadcaster reported Monday that when Smotrich’s original request, to be appointed justice minister was denied, a confidant of Netanyahu’s informed him that he was passed over because the premier’s legal future would be in the hands of whoever was appointed to the post.

Likud MK Amir Ohana delivers his first speech as justice minister at a conference of the Israel Bar Association, in Jerusalem, on June 10, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Nathan Eshel, Netanyahu’s former chief of staff and a key figure in the failed coalition talks, reportedly told Smotrich: “The next justice minister will hold the key to the legal future of the prime minister and his family. There’s no way you’re getting that key.”

Netanyahu last week appointed Likud loyalist Amir Ohana — among the only senior members of Likud to have publicly backed Netanyahu’s drive to secure immunity from prosecution — to the post of justice minister in the current transition government.

Smotrich responded to Ohana’s appointment on Wednesday by tweeting that “Netanyahu wouldn’t treat any of his other partners like he allows himself to treat religious Zionists,” and added that the URWP would “draw [necessary] conclusions” from the prime minister’s snub.

Jewish Home leader Rafi Peretz, who also leads the URWP, is expected to receive the education portfolio.

During coalition negotiations last month that failed to result in the formation of a government, the URWP lobbied aggressively for the justice and education posts, saying that Smotrich’s background in law made him a natural fit for the former position, while Peretz’s decades of work in the field of education made him suitable for the latter job.

Union of Right-Wing Parties chairman Rafi Peretz (R) and National Union faction chair Bezalel Smotrich, at the party’s 2019 election campaign launch, March 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu fired education and Diaspora affairs minister Naftali Bennett and justice minister Ayelet Shaked last Sunday in a reshuffle of his interim government ahead of the September elections. The move was widely seen as designed to prevent the once-popular right-wing ministers from using their positions to bolster their campaigns for the fall vote.

In appointing Ohana justice minister in Shaked’s stead on Wednesday — and asserting that the position would not be an interim one — Netanyahu appeared to signal to URWP that only one of the two portfolios the party had demanded would be available to it after the next election, should Likud win.

Initially, the Prime Minister’s Office said Netanyahu would temporarily assume the mantles of education and justice minister, but that sparked a backlash, with critics saying he could not hold the latter portfolio with an indictment in three corruption cases hanging over his head, pending a hearing.

His office then backtracked and announced that interim ministers would be named within 48 hours.

Michael Bachner and Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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