Ultra-Orthodox Leadership Permits Haredi Legislator to Hold Ministerial Position

The Council of Torah Sages approves Litzman's appointment as health minister, while Akunis is tapped to replace Danon as minister of information, technology and space.

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Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman
Health Minister Yaakov Litzman. Credit: Tali Meyer

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is tweaking his cabinet by promoting a minister without portfolio and after a religious party's leadership approved the promotion of the deputy health minister.

On Thursday, the Council of Torah Sages of the Agudat Yisrael party approved the nomination of Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman as health minister. Agudat Yisrael is part of United Torah Judaism, a small party in Netanyahu’s governing coalition.

The move alters the stance taken by the ultra-Orthodox camp in recent decades. United Torah Judaism normally shuns ministerial positions, stemming from Jewish law: The party prefers not to vote on whether Israel should go to war.

Minister Ofir Akunis in a Likud press conference purporting to expose leftist organizations' illegal activities during the 2015 election campaign.Credit: Moti Milrod

Also, UTJ has preferred to keep Zionist politics at arm’s length, taking an ideological stance against partnership with the state.

Litzman said he “accepts the council’s decision. I have acceded to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request to serve as health minister.”

On Sunday, the High Court of Justice said Litzman could not continue to be a “deputy minister acting as a minister” and gave Litzman 60 days to either assume full ministerial responsibilities or resign.

“I respect decisions and demands made by the High Court of Justice. As far as I’m concerned there is no change in my role. I will continue to serve the citizens of Israel as I have done up to now,” Litzman said.

“For me, a deputy minister in the role of an acting minister is the same as a fill-fledged minister. I remain committed to advancing the health needs of Israel’s citizens with a responsibility toward the health system, with no change to my daily routine at the Health Ministry.”

Also Thursday, Netanyahu appointed Ofir Akunis, previously minister without portfolio, the minister of information, technology and space. The position had been vacated by Danny Danon, who has been approved as Israel’s new ambassador to the United Nations.

Akunis will remain responsible for the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Second Authority for Television and Radio.

Netanyahu’s decision to appoint a current minister to Danon’s position is something of a surprise because ministers Arye Dery and Moshe Kahlon had said they would let Netanyahu add an additional Likud minister.

But the Movement for Quality Government warned Netanyahu against appointing another Likud MK minister without portfolio to replace Akunis. The movement reminded Netanyahu that a special committee recommended a sharp reduction in the number of ministries.

“On the diplomatic-security front, no country is more in the right than Israel,” Danon said after being appointed UN ambassador. “No other democracy in the world is surrounded by enemies in the form of terror organizations without conscience or values, seeking nothing but destruction.”

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