Supreme Court judge: PM can’t head other ministries

Yesh Atid petitions court over Netanyahu’s deal with ultra-Orthodox coalition partner on Health Ministry

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) congratulates then-incoming Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem, on May 20, 2015. (Amos Ben Gershom/ GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) congratulates then-incoming Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem, on May 20, 2015. (Amos Ben Gershom/ GPO/Flash90)

The prime minister of Israel cannot also head government ministries, Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer said Tuesday during a hearing over the appointment of Yaakov Litzman as deputy health minister.

The opposition Yesh Atid party petitioned the court to demand the appointment of a full-time health minister. Yesh Atid’s Yael German served as health minister in the previous government, while Litzman of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism served as deputy health minister in the government before that.

Litzman refuses to serve as minister — his Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox party sees such a move as full recognition of the state, which it opposes on religious grounds. According to the compromise reached with UTJ, Litzman heads the ministry although he holds the title of deputy minister, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu serving as the minister in name only.

Netanyahu also serves as de facto foreign minister and communication minister. Likud’s Tzipi Hotovely serves as deputy foreign minister and Ofir Akunis as a minister without portfolio at the Communications Ministry. There is no dedicated communications minister, and Netanyahu’s opponents have charged that this is so the prime minister can use the leverage as he sees fit.

Deputy Supreme Court President Justice Elyakim Rubinstein said during the discussion: “Health is no small matter in the State of Israel and concerns each and every one of us in this hall. Ask yourself, who is in charge of health, who is really in charge of health? The prime minister has Iran and security and communication and a few more issues to deal with. We need a person in charge, who is the person in charge? If we walk in the street and ask a person on the street, the medical street, not just the ultra-Orthodox street – they will say: Litzman. And they will be right, because he acts like the man in charge, he appointed a director general at Hadassah [medical center in Jerusalem]. I saw his plans, good work.”

Supreme Court justice and Elyakim Rubinstein in his Jerusalem office (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Supreme Court justice Elyakim Rubinstein in his Jerusalem office (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

But Rubinstein then criticized the arrangement between Litzman and Netanyahu, brokered with the help of Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein. The deal grants Netanyahu the ministerial authority, while Litzman runs the ministry in practice and needs Netanyahu’s signature for implementing various decisions. Far-reaching policy is decided by both, but Netanyahu’s opinion carries more weight.

Rubinstein called the arrangement “a sort of emperor’s new clothes.” He noted that UTJ has indeed had a minister in the past and that its MK Moshe Gafni serves as head of the Knesset’s Finance Committee. This position, the justice said, is “the father of all jobs: he’s in charge of budgets. So why can’t Litzman be a minister?”

Meanwhile, the NGO the Movement for Governance and Democracy said that the Supreme Court “should not be the one to determine norms for the government.”

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