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Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday that if he wins the February elections the Likud would keep the Education Ministry and not hand it to another party.

Speaking at the Knesset ceremony on the seventh anniversary of the murder of minister Rehavam Ze'evi, Netanyahu said the idea of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party taking over the education portfolio in the next coalition government would be a "nightmare."

Shas Chairman Eli Yishai said earlier yesterday that his party would demand the education portfolio to bolster the state's Jewish curriculum.

Observers said Yishai's demand was seen as an opening bid intended to obtain the interior affairs portfolio after the elections.

Netanyahu said that Likud would hold onto the education portfolio "in order to deal with the major challenges facing us".

Speaking at the ceremony, Netanyahu said "The love and appreciation for the IDF are a founding layer in Israel's values and in the education of values that Gandhi [Ze'evi] believed so much in."

Finance Minister Roni Bar-On earlier scoffed at Netanyahu for not denying that he would give Shas the education portfolio. "Israeli citizens, why vote for the middleman? Vote directly for Shas," Bar-On said.

Netanyahu's use of a state memorial service for a campaign speech raised a furor in the Knesset. Labor secretary-general MK Eitan Cabel and MKs from Kadima and Meretz left the hall in protest.

"If this were Netanyahu's memorial, Gandhi would not do this to him," said MK Ran Cohen, of Meretz, calling Netanyahu "impertinent."