How many Prime Ministers? How many Ministers?
Bibi Netanyahu and Benny Gantz are expected to be sworn in together as Prime Ministers of the 23rd Knesset. Netanyahu will be first in the rotation deal. At a later date, in theory, he will become ‘Vice’ Prime Minister, IF Gantz becomes acting PM.
They are then to appoint about thirty-six ministers, and twelve deputy ministers. There is a possibility that these numbers may grow, especially regarding deputy ministers. (At a huge cost to the public, during a crippling recession, not exclusively due to the Coronavirus.)
The need for the new ‘Vice’ title for Netanyahu (Reminds me of the TV series ‘Miami Vice’) is not directly related to the criminal acts of which Netanyahu is accused. Israel has never had a full–time position officially defined as ‘deputy’ prime minister. When a prime minister was unable to perform his or her role, a minister was temporarily appointed as a ‘replacement’ prime minister.
Even the ‘replacement’ role was not clearly defined. At one time, the minister Miri Regev was appointed to replace the Prime Minister, yet she was not entitled to participate in the Security Cabinet, not being a member.
By law, only a ‘minister’ can be appointed ‘Replacement Prime Minister’. And by law, a member of the Knesset cannot be a minister if under criminal indictment. Netanyahu cannot be a minister, being under indictment. Therefore he cannot be a ‘replacement’ PM, hence the need for a new and creative definition.
On May 4 eleven Supreme Court judges heard a petition regarding two issues. One related to the validity of some elements in the brewing coalition agreement. The other challenged the absurd possibility that a Member of the Knesset under indictment, who cannot be a minister for that reason, can be the Prime Minister. The judges pointed out, in their ‘infinite’ wisdom, that there is no specific law forbidding a member of the Knesset under indictment from forming a government.
The title ‘prime minister’ in Hebrew is actually called ‘Head of the Government’ (Rosh Hamemshala.) If the title was ‘sar rashi’ in Hebrew (prime minister), things may have been different. Regarding the coalition agreement, the petitioners complained about the unprecedented amount of ministers, thirty-six in number, claiming it to be a form of institutionalized bribery.
Judge Meltzer looked somewhat concerned when he stated that there is a technical possibility of appointing sixty-one ministers. He was only partly right. If, for example, there are 70 members of the Knesset in the coalition, they could ALL be appointed ministers.
Here, too, there is no specific law that limits the amount of ministers (and deputy ministers), so both petitions were rejected – on purely legal grounds. The judges were kind enough to mention that some aspects of the agreement could be problematic. Really?
Here’s one for you: The failed Minister of Health, and head of the Ashkenazi Haredi party Yahadut HaTorah, Yaakov Litzman, is awaiting criminal indictment. The rabbis who are the ‘spiritual’ leaders of his party have instructed him to demand the Ministry of Housing, instead of the health portfolio. The reason is that they want more cheap housing units built for the Haredi community – nothing to do with his miserable performance at the Health Ministry.
Once the indictment is formal, Litzman can no longer, by law, be a minister of anything. If Netanyahu is dependent on the support of the Haredi parties for his coalition, they can demand that he also be appointed a vice-prime minister.
Remember, there is no law preventing an indicted Member of the Knesset from being a vice prime minister. AND there is no law limiting the amount of vice prime ministers (or ministers, or deputy ministers.) The new Vice Prime Minister Litzman would then be able to ‘oversee’ a deputy minister from his party in the Housing Ministry. (He would never have to actually be acting prime minister.)
There could be even more vice prime ministers appointed, depending on the amount of ministers under criminal indictment. Perhaps we could also redefine the titles of those in the Supreme Court, calling them ‘legal clerks’, instead of judges. There’s no law against it.