“Yaron Mazuz is a deputy minister. Are he and Litzman the same? Why is Rabbi Litzman different from any other deputies? I didn’t see [deputy ministers Tzipi] Hotovely and Mazuz in the pictures of the cabinet, but Litzman was there. Why does he deserve to participate in such a picture among the ministers? After all, he is only a deputy minister."
Above left, benjamin Netanyahu; above right, Rabbi Yaakov Litzman
Israel’s High Court Lashes Out At Netanyahu Government Over Illegal ‘Legal Fiction’ Used To Benefit Haredim
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
Israel’s High Court of Justice sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today sharply warning him that he is not legally allowed to hold any ministerial positions while simultaneously serving as prime minister except in a short term crisis situation, for example the death, incapacitation or resignation of a sitting minister, Ha’aretz reported.
Even though he has been previously warned against this behavior, Netanyhau is currently Israel’s prime minister, its foreign minister, its communications minister, and its health minister. None of those additional posts are held due to a crisis like those listed above and none are meant to be held short term.
The letter is seen a final warning to Netanayhu. If he does not divest himself of the various ministries and appoint full ministers to run them, the court will likely formally rule Netanyahu’s behavior is illegal, which would force Netanyahu to comply or, if he doesn’t, could see his government collapse around him.
Of the secondary ministries Netanyahu holds, it is the Health Ministry that is the most controversial.
Currently, the Health Ministry is run by Deputy Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman of the Ashkenazi haredi United Torah Judaism Party (UTJ). The arrangement is a legal fiction; Netanyahu does nothing much in the way of public health, and he holds the minister title in name only as a legal fiction because UTJ’s top rabbis have long held that its politicians cannot hold full minister posts because if they did, they would have to vote on security issues in the cabinet, something the rabbis don’t want them to do, especially when those same rabbis forbid haredim from joining the IDF.
The rabbis also see holding ministerial posts as a violation of their non-Zionist theology. So to accommodate this while giving the haredi party defacto power, Netanyahu developed something called a “deputy minister with the status of minister,” meaning the haredi politician is appointed the sole deputy minister of a ministry and the prime minister keeps the full minister’s portfolio for himself in name only.
The legal fiction was used several years ago during a previous Netanyahu government, and the court warned Netanyahu then that it was illegal. Netanyahu did nothing in response. It is thought this time the court will formally rule against Netanyahu if he doesn’t either remove Litzman or make him full minister with all the duties that post entails – including voting on security issues.
The court also noted that a compromise framework suggested by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein that would allow Litzman to continue serve as deputy health minister and Netanyahu as the full minister of health but actually fulfilling many of the duties that come with that title is absolutely not acceptable. At today’s hearing the justices reportedly harshly criticized it as they also rejected out-of-hand the government’s clearly false claims that Litzman was a deputy minister whose role was not significantly different than deputy ministers in other ministries.
“The prime minister cannot be a minister at all. In a previous version of Basic Law: The Government, there was a section according to which the prime minister can be in charge of a ministry. In the present Basic Law: The Government this section has been removed," Justice Hanan Melcer, one of the five justices hearing the case, reportedly said today at the hearing. Therefore, Melcer continued, the prime minister cannot serve as a minister, and any compromise framework meant to allow him to do so is a violation of the law.
Another justice pointed out one of the very evident descption's in the government's argument.
“Yaron Mazuz is a deputy minister. Are he and Litzman the same? Why is Rabbi Litzman different from any other deputies? I didn’t see [deputy ministers Tzipi] Hotovely and Mazuz in the pictures of the cabinet, but Litzman was there. Why does he deserve to participate in such a picture among the ministers? After all, he is only a deputy minister,” Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, another of the five justices, asked the Netanyahu government’s attorney.
During the hearing, the five justices tried to get the government to say out loud the reason(s) why Litzman refuses to serve as a full minister. The Netanyahu government’s attorney responded that only UTJ could answer that question, likely meaning the reasons Litzman won’t hold a full ministerial position – his UTJ party’s non-Zionism and his party’s unwillingness to vote on security issues because doing so might cause the non-haredi public to hate the haredi party even more than they already do for the widespread draft-dodging encouraged by its top rabbis and politicians – would be disastrous to Netanyahu if made public in this (or likely any) context and would also make it very difficult for future governments to form with UTJ as a coalition member and for this government to remain in power.
“Maybe there will be a resolution to this issue if Litzman listens to the spirit [of the court] here, which is leaning toward promoting him,” Justice Elyakim Rubinstein concluded. “We will not set the agenda for the Council of Torah Sages [of the UTJ Party], but if Litzman will announce that he agrees to be a minister – the problem will be solved.”
Litzman’s office reportedly said in response to the letter and to the justices questions and remarks at today’s hearing that Litzman would study what the justices said and answer their questions within the five days allotted to him by the justices. But, Litzman’s office added, after doing so Litzman will wait for the court to issue its final ruling before announcing what his decision is.
While UTJ politicians reportedly believe that if the court issues a formal ruling against Netanyahu, the party’s top rabbis will allow Litzman to fill the full ministerial role – this is by no means clear.