Yisrael Beytenu’s Avidar becomes minister after threats to break with coalition

Rebel lawmaker gets ‘strategic planning’ portfolio in PM’s office, quits parliament under so-called Norwegian Law

Yisrael Beytenu MK Eli Avidar at the Knesset on June 21, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Yisrael Beytenu MK Eli Avidar at the Knesset on June 21, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Maverick Yisrael Beytenu MK Eli Avidar on Tuesday was formally appointed minister in charge of strategic planning in the Prime Minister’s Office.

It was not immediately clear what Avidar’s portfolio will entail. In June the new government closed the Strategic Affairs Ministry, which was largely concerned with battling boycotts against Israel.

Upon his swearing-in, Avidar quit the Knesset under the so-called “Norwegian Law” that allows lawmakers appointed to a cabinet post to step down temporarily from the Knesset, thereby permitting the next candidate on the party’s slate to enter parliament in their stead.

Following his resignation, Yisrael Beytenu candidate Sharon Rofeh Ofir, a journalist, will enter the Knesset.

Avidar has served in Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party since 2019, but ties between the two soured in June when the lawmaker was not given a ministerial post.

On the day of the new government’s swearing-in that month, Avidar said he would no longer vote along party lines, retaliating after Liberman did not grant him his choice of ministerial post.

Liberman, who was set to be named finance minister, offered Avidar the position of a minister within his office. Avidar declined, recognizing that he would have little independence in such a position. He asked Liberman to name him either agriculture minister or minister of the Negev and the Galilee, but Liberman combined the two portfolios and handed it to the party’s No. 2 Oded Forer.

Though he later said he was committed to the government, Avidar proceeded to declare himself an “independent lawmaker,” removed the Yisrael Beytenu logo from his Facebook page and reportedly threatened to vote against the coalition’s budget proposal. If it fails to pass a budget by early November, the government will automatically collapse.

Following negotiations between Avidar and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office, a compromise was reached under which Avidar would be named minister in the Prime Minister’s Office in charge of strategic planning. He will later be appointed intelligence minister, once Yesh Atid’s Elazar Stern, who is currently in the post, becomes head of the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (R) and Yisrael Beytenu MK Eli Avidar attend a plenum session in the Knesset, on July 12, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Ahead of his ministerial appointment, Avidar, parliament’s last coronavirus vaccine holdout, took the COVID-19 inoculation.

The Egypt-born Avidar, 57, is a former Israeli diplomat, adviser to former prime minister Ariel Sharon, and past managing director of the Israel Diamond Institute and Israel Diamond Exchange. He was a prominent activist in the weekly protests against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The government, a diverse mix of eight parties from across the political spectrum, has struggled to maintain its majority in the Knesset on key legislation amid bickering and dissent within its ranks that led to it losing some valued votes to the opposition.

The new cabinet has 29 ministers and seven deputy ministers, making it the third-largest government in Israel’s history. The previous government, a power-sharing arrangement under the leadership of Netanyahu, holds the record with 35 cabinet ministers.

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