Supreme Court critic Amsalem to join Justice Ministry as 2nd minister

Five weeks after government formed, influential Likud MK agrees to several ministerial roles, ending headache for Netanyahu

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

MK David Amsalem reacts during a plenum session of the Knesset on December 19, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
MK David Amsalem reacts during a plenum session of the Knesset on December 19, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Ending an enduring squabble in his Likud party, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will appoint vocal MK and Supreme Court critic David Amsalem as a second minister within the Justice Ministry and to two other positions, the party announced on Tuesday.

Likud did not immediately elaborate on how his responsibilities would divide with Justice Minister Yariv Levin, who is leading the government’s judicial reform drive — an ambitious plan to rebalance power away from the judiciary and into politicians’ hands.

Amsalem will also serve as regional cooperation minister and swap out Yoav Kisch as the minister liaising between the government and the Knesset, in a deal that Likud said has Amsalem’s agreement.

Amsalem is considered one of the 32-member faction’s most influential lawmakers, carrying sway with other parliamentarians that Netanyahu is concerned may be leveraged as political capital against the premier’s moves in the Knesset. Likud and its far-right and ultra-Orthodox partners hold a narrow 64-seat majority in the 120-member legislature.

Under the recently expanded Norwegian Law, Likud can swap out up to 11 of its ministers and deputy ministers within the Knesset with the next candidates on the party’s election roster. As Amsalem has angled for weeks for a meaty position within the government, party insiders have said that Netanyahu would hope to press him into resigning his Knesset seat under the law.

During coalition formation, Amsalem pushed to be justice minister or Knesset speaker, both of which Netanyahu instead gave to trusted Likud allies.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks with then-coalition chairman MK David Amsalem during a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset on November 19, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

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. He has also been a harsh critic of the Supreme Court and accused it of racism against Israelis of Mizrahi Jewish descent.

Last year, Amsalem charged that the court doesn’t tolerate “the Machloufs, nor the Amsalems, nor the Bitons,” invoking Mizrahi Likud party names to imply the court discriminates against Mizrahi Jews, after several of his petitions were denied.

He has also said that Supreme Court justices were “detached” from society and ahead of the November 1 elections claimed that justice officials who “framed” Netanyahu for his ongoing corruption trials should be jailed for their “coup.”

“It is important to have two justice ministers in order to destroy the justice system, but a health minister and an interior minister — not mandatory,” the opposition Yesh Atid party said in response, referring to the government’s reticence to appoint permanent replacements for Shas leader Aryeh Deri. Netanyahu was forced to fire Deri from his twin posts after the High Court of Justice found his appointment unreasonable, in light of Deri’s recent tax fraud convictions.

“This is a government in disorder and the citizens will pay,” the Yesh Atid statement continued.

It was not immediately clear how Amsalem’s appointment, which brought the number of cabinet ministers to 33, would impact other disgruntled Likud lawmakers, such as MK Danny Danon, who was similarly passed over for a ministerial post when the government was formed.

Likud MK Danny Danon in the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu was forced to give several Likud lawmakers the cold shoulder after handing out most of the top government positions to his coalition partners. While some received ministerial posts, others were given lesser positions or forced to share roles in a rotation.

The Likud chief was also seen as rewarding those who were most loyal to him over the past few years and seeking to weaken those who could challenge his authority in the party.

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