Vocal Supreme Court critic and Likud MK David Amsalem was appointed a second minister within the Justice Ministry, with the Knesset ratifying his appointment early Tuesday.
Neither Amsalem’s nor Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s office has yet described the expected division of authorities between the two men, with Amsalem’s office flatly refusing to discuss substantive details about the appointment until the new minister’s place in the cabinet is confirmed.
Thirty-seven MKs voted in favor of the appointment, while 25 were opposed.
The vote came hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a brief halt in the coalition’s legislative efforts to dramatically overhaul the judiciary to allow for talks in the face of mass protests and strikes.
The Likud-led coalition has been planning to pass a controversial law to hand itself control over key judicial appointments, as part of a broader, multi-point plan to increase political power at the expense of judiciary and weaken the Supreme Court.
Netanyahu has also been working to try and crush an internal Likud rebellion against the brisk pace at which the coalition is advancing these laws in the face of dire warnings from legal, economic and security leaders and international allies, and 12 weeks of heated public protests.
Amsalem was one of two Likud lawmakers who sat out a critical vote last week, staging a protest ostensibly about the party withholding support from a policy to pull value-added tax from cancer drugs. Amsalem has caused trouble for Netanyahu in the Knesset in the past, and fulfilling the prime minister’s early February promise to make him a minister was likely tied to securing his support for the ongoing legislative and political battles.
As part of the agreement, Amsalem will also take over as regional cooperation minister and as the minister who liaises between the now 33-strong government and the Knesset, both positions currently held by Education Minister Yoav Kisch.
Although Amsalem’s area of authority within the ministry was publicly undefined, it would not be the first dual appointment to a ministry made without clear guidelines. In December, Netanyahu appointed Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich as a second minister within the Defense Ministry, a situation that caused much friction with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and required several Netanyahu-brokered meetings to define areas of authority.
Amsalem has laid out his attitude regarding the Supreme Court, which he has slammed as being discriminatory toward Jews of Middle Eastern extraction, including himself.
Last year, Amsalem charged that the court doesn’t tolerate “the Machloufs, nor the Amsalems, nor the Bitons,” invoking Mizrahi names to imply the court discriminates against Sephardi Jews, after several of his petitions were denied.
He has also said that Supreme Court justices are “detached” from society, and ahead of the November 1 elections claimed that justice officials “framed” Netanyahu in his ongoing corruption trials and should be jailed for their “coup.”
Last summer, Amsalem submitted a bill to move judicial appointments fully under government control, a step echoed by the coalition’s current judicial reform proposals.