Rivlin: Constitutional functionality collapsed in fight over justice minister

President laments ‘illusion of constitutional functionality’ amid political impasse as he hosts inter-faith event that includes envoys of Morocco and United Arab Emirates

Screen capture from video of President Reuven Rivlin at an inter-religious meeting in Abu Gosh, April 28, 2021. (Twitter)
Screen capture from video of President Reuven Rivlin at an inter-religious meeting in Abu Gosh, April 28, 2021. (Twitter)

In an apparent swipe at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin said Wednesday there had been a collapse in the “constitutional functionality” of Israel’s government, a day after the premier briefly forced through the appointment of a loyalist as justice minister over the objections of the attorney general.

Netanyahu eventually reversed his position on the matter after the High Court of Justice intervened, froze the appointment and ordered the premier to explain his actions. Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz, who is also defense minister, was appointed justice minister instead.

Speaking at an interfaith event in Abu Ghosh, near Jerusalem, Rivlin lamented the series of four inconclusive elections that have left Israel without a stable, functioning government for over two years.

“For some time now, we have been living with the illusion of constitutional functionality between one election campaign and the next, but it appears that yesterday another fence collapsed,” Rivlin said, apparently referring to the stormy cabinet meeting during which Netanyahu’s pick for minister was approved in a vote Gantz and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit protested was illegal.

“We must return to the principle according to which the government serves the people, not that the people serve the government,” Rivlin said.

Government ministers finally approved Gantz’s appointment at a cabinet meeting held via video conference Wednesday afternoon.

The High Court had on Tuesday temporarily frozen the appointment of the Likud party’s Ofir Akunis as justice minister after the cabinet — led by Netanyahu — openly defied Mandelblit’s forceful warnings that the vote was illegal and pushed through the appointment.

The cabinet meeting quickly devolved into a shouting match between Likud and ministers from Gantz’s Blue and White. Netanyahu had been implacably opposed to making Gantz the permanent justice minister, after the latter’s three-month interim term ran out several weeks ago, and Gantz had insisted that only he had the right to select a candidate for the post and nominated himself.

As part of Gantz’s coalition agreement with Netanyahu last year, the position of justice minister was reserved for members of Gantz’s Blue and White-led bloc. Avi Nissenkorn held the post until elections were called late last year, at which point he resigned to run on a separate party’s slate. Gantz, who is also defense minister, subsequently took on the post in an interim capacity and over the past several weeks repeatedly called on Netanyahu to hold a vote to appoint him as a permanent minister, but no vote was held.

Gantz’s interim term ran out at the end of March, and Israel has been without a justice minister throughout April.

Netanyahu, who is on trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, has railed against the justice system, police, left-wing opposition and media, accusing them of conspiring to remove him from power. He denies any wrongdoing.

Coalition negotiations are in progress aimed a forming a government but so far there remain significant hurdles for any candidate, including Netanyahu, to build a majority in the Knesset, raising the prospect of yet another election.

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