Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not be able to rely on MK Bennie Begin to fill a looming vacancy in the cabinet, because Begin believes he must remain in the Knesset in order to block controversial legislation, Begin told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
Netanyahu was supposed to appoint a successor to Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky by the agency’s board of governor’s meeting in Zichron Ya’acov next month. But informed sources said Netanyahu was unlikely to select a candidate before then due to legal and political issues.
National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz, who has been loyal to the prime minister for two decades, wants the post. Until recently, Steinitz’s candidacy was aided by Netanyahu’s interest in creating a vacancy in the cabinet for then-coalition chairman David Bitan.
But due to Bitan’s legal problems, he no longer has any chance of becoming a minister. If Netanyahu would appoint Steinitz now, several freshman Likud MKs would demand that Netanyahu appoint them to the cabinet.
Only two Likud MKs have ministerial experience who could solve Netanyahu’s problem: Begin and Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Avi Dichter. Begin told the Post that if Netanyahu offered him a cabinet post, he would refuse it, as he did when Netanyahu promoted current Communications Minister Ayoub Kara to the cabinet last January.
“My parliamentary work right now on the Knesset Law Committee is too important to leave, especially with the kind of laws they have been trying to pass lately,” Begin said.
Begin cited the Settlement Arrangements law and nation-state bill, both of which were removed from the Law Committee and legislated in special new committees for the sole purpose of preventing Begin from voting on them.
He also cited the Police Recommendations Law passed two weeks ago, which prevents the police from summarizing high-profile investigations and leaking their contents. When Begin recommended that the bill be changed to not apply to open cases, such as Netanyahu’s, Bitan removed Begin from the Knesset Interior Committee and replaced him with himself. That change to the legislation was later made anyway, at Netanyahu’s request, and passed into law.
Ministers who are MKs are not members of Knesset committees and do not do any legislative work other than voting in the plenum.
Netanyahu considered promoting Dichter to the cabinet a year ago when Kara became a minister. Begin was asked at the time about replacing Dichter as the helm of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and he declined the offer.
Asked whether he would leave the committee to become a minister, Dichter responded that he “will not make decisions or considerations based on theoretical possibilities.
“We will see what happens,” he told the Post. “Until then, I have my hands full with real matters of substance.”
Steinitz appeared to harm his chances of receiving the Jewish Agency post on Thursday, when he told the 103 FM radio station that his children would never have visited a strip club. The statement was seen as criticism of Netanyahu, whose son Yair was taped on a jaunt to strip clubs with two friends in a recording broadcast Monday on Channel 2.
Realizing that he could get in trouble for insulting the prime minister, Steinitz later wrote on his Twitter account that his opposition to strip clubs came long before the Yair Netanyahu incident. In the tweet, Steinitz condemned the practice of secretly recording people, which the prime minister spoke against in Thursday’s cabinet meeting.
The Post reported in November that American heads of the Jewish Agency and the Jewish Federations of North America had given Netanyahu a list of at least six candidates they deem worthy to succeed Sharansky: Steinitz, opposition leader Isaac Herzog, Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai, Consul-General in New York Dani Dayan, Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer and former ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor.
If Netanyahu does not select a candidate in time for the February meeting, his last chance before Sharansky’s departure will be at another board of governors meeting set for June 24-26 in Jerusalem. Sharansky intends to leave his post immediately after that meeting.
It is possible that the agency chairmanship will remain vacant for a few months, and the prime minister will only appoint a replacement ahead of the October board meeting, which will coincide with the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America in Tel Aviv.
If the post becomes vacant, the agency’s Vice Chairman David Breakstone would hold it on an interim basis.