Another Crisis Averted for Bennett Coalition With Errant Lawmaker Given Cabinet Post

Michael Hauser Tov
Michael Hauser Tov
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Israel Beiteinu lawmaker Eli Avidar at the Knesset in June.
Israel Beiteinu lawmaker Eli Avidar at the Knesset in June.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Michael Hauser Tov
Michael Hauser Tov

The cabinet is expected to approve on Sunday the appointment of Yisrael Beiteinu lawmaker Eli Avidar – who has long been a thorn in the side of the new government – as a minister without portfolio, bringing the total number of ministers in the cabinet to 28.

This, the coalition hopes, will end the ongoing crisis with Avidar since the government was formed.

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Avidar's position at the Prime Minister's Office will put him in charge of “strategic planning,” per the cabinet announcement. He may later be rotated to the Intelligence Ministry, in the case that current Minister Elazar Stern is appointed chairman of the Jewish Agency, as has been suggested.

Last month, as the parties divvied up portfolios, Avidar declared that he would not commit himself to the coalition until he received a ministerial portfolio, even though he had spurned an offer by his party leader Avigdor Lieberman of a ministerial post at the Treasury Ministry, leading to tension between them.

On one occasion Avidar actually voted against the coalition, on a bill making it easier for lawmakers to split from their party.

While Avidar vowed he would not cause the downfall of the Bennett-Lapid government, the coalition has been pursuing a resolution to their conflict with him before the crucial budget vote in November. A cabinet source said that "even Lieberman understands we have to solve this."

Avidar is expected to resign from the Knesset under the so-called Norwegian Law, per Lieberman's request as well as that of coalition leaders, freeing another Knesset seat for Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu.

Avidar will be the 28th minister in the current government. In early June, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid addressed the size of the cabinet and said during a Knesset speech: “I failed to limit the number of ministers in the government. I can’t defend that.” He argued: “I wanted a small cabinet with a small number of ministers. It’s not good, but it is part of what allowed us to form a government.”

In addition to Avidar, Meretz lawmaker Yair Golan is also expected to join the cabinet on Sunday, as a deputy minister at the Economy Ministry, headed by Yesh Atid's Orna Barbivai. Following the appointment, Golan is expected to hand over the chairmanship of the Knesset’s Immigration Absorption Committee to a member of the Likud-led opposition.

Over the weekend Golan expressed his excitement about joining the ministry, stressing "the importance of the state’s role in managing the economy and investing in citizens.” However, Golan did not address critics who said that there is no real need for another deputy minister at the Economy Ministry, and that his appointment is merely compensation for losing the committee chairmanship.

Some two weeks ago the coalition formed the standing committees, and was met with harsh and widespread criticism from the opposition, coalition members and others, among them the house legal counsel. The criticism focused on the low number of committee chair positions given to the opposition. Non-partisan Knesset professionals have recommended that the opposition, which has only four less lawmakers than the coalition, be given another committee.

In addition, in order to retain a majority on the more significant committees, the coalition appointed a larger number of opposition members to lesser committees, much to their chagrin.

While the coalition has warned that they will convene the committees even if the opposition boycotts them, they are continuing negotiations with the opposition in order to avoid such a scenario.

In an effort to pacify the opposition, the coalition has agreed to limit the majority of coalition members on several committees, and to expand others to give Likud members more representation. However, the coalition insists on retaining a two-member majority on the Finance committee, responsible for passing the state’s budget, and this is the primary remaining point of contention.

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