Friday 21 October 2016

Netanyahu is slated as the PM who holds four ministries

Robert Tait in Jerusalem

Published 09/07/2015 | 02:30

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem June 28, 2015. REUTERS/Atef Safadi/Pool
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem June 28, 2015. REUTERS/Atef Safadi/Pool
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu centre, and his wife Sara sit next to President Reuven Rivlin (right) during a ceremony on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem commemorating soldiers who died in the 2014 Gaza war a year ago this week.

Benjamin Netanyahu has been criticised by one of Israel's top judges for holding four ministerial positions as well as serving as prime minister.

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Justice Hanan Melcer, who sits on Israel's supreme court, cast the spotlight on Mr Netanyahu's current portfolio of ministries in the coalition government formed after March's general election.

In addition to being prime minister, the Israeli leader is minister for the foreign, communications, regional cooperation and health ministries - the day-to-day running of which is handled by deputy ministers.

Justice Melcer's remarks came at a supreme court hearing to decide the case of Yaakov Litzman, whose status as deputy health minister has been challenged in a petition filed by the secular opposition party, Yesh Atid, which complained about the absence of a full-time health minister.

Mr Litzman, a member of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, says he and his party colleagues are precluded by a 'rabbinical ordinance' dating back to the 1950s from accepting full ministerial posts.

He instead sits in the cabinet as "deputy minister with the rank of minister", while Mr Netanyahu holds the title of health minister.

Sitting on a panel of five judges, Justice Melcer told the hearing that Israel's current basic law - the closest thing the country has to a constitution - did not support such an arrangement. "[Mr Netanyahu] cannot be, along with being prime minister, a minister. This entire plan is disqualified according to the current basic law," he said.

The comments attracted renewed attention to the make-up of Mr Netanyahu's rickety right-wing coalition.

While previous prime ministers have on occasion combined the highest office with the foreign or defence portfolios, Mr Netanyahu's simultaneous appropriation of four ministries is said to be unprecedented.

Current law only allows the prime minister to hold full ministerial posts temporarily if the incumbent dies, resigns or is incapacitated.

Mr Netanyahu is holding onto the foreign ministry in the hope that he can use it as a carrot to woo opposition parties into his coalition.

Ben Caspit, a frequent critic of the prime minister, said Justice Melcer's words could have a "dramatic" effect.

"Either Netanyahu gets the basic law changed and can be both prime minister or any other minister he wants (why not be both prime minister and all the other ministers?), or the government is expanded by at least four more ministers," he wrote in a newspaper column. "And it will be necessary to run Israel like an orderly country, not like a banana republic."

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