The negotiations over the distribution of portfolios in Israel's next government have begun, but it appears that despite being one of the largest and most important ministries, the Education Ministry has not been “called” by any of the likely coalition partners.
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So far, Habayit Hayehudi, Kulanu, Yisrael Beiteinu and the ultra-Orthodox parties have not laid claim to the ministry, and none of their Knesset members have expressed a strong interest in the position. Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely has declared an interest in the post, and while her relatively low placement on the party slate, No. 20, would not usually be considered ministerial, there has been talk that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could reward her for delivering the votes of settlers and religious Zionists to Likud. And MK Gila Gamliel, No. 14 on the slate, said on Sunday she wants to head the Education Ministry, which she called her “natural place.”
Before the election, Habayit Hayehudi had expressed interest in the portfolio, but presumably as a result of its poor showing – Naftali Bennett’s party dropped from 12 Knesset seats to eight – it seems to have backed off from the demand. On the other hand, if Bennett does not get either the defense or foreign affairs portfolio – Likud cabinet members have suggested that the party wants to keep these two key posts for itself – he might be given education instead.
At this stage it appears that the education spot might be saved as a “consolation prize” for either a Likud minister in the outgoing government or a Likud MK such as Hotovely, Zeev Elkin or Miri Regev, although it’s unlikely to be given to an MK who has not previously served in the cabinet.
“The education portfolio must not be a consolation portfolio for someone who did not receive a different portfolio. It’s a portfolio that must be wanted. It’s the most socially-minded portfolio that there is and should remain in Likud,” Hotovely told Haaretz on Sunday night.
After the 2013 election, the education portfolio was hotly contested between former Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar of Likud and Yesh Atid’s Shay Piron, who won the position in the end. The issue of education was at the top of the agenda in the parties’ campaigns in that election, in stark contrast to its near absence from party platforms in the election season that just ended.