In a surprise move, Education Minister Naftali Bennett decided Tuesday to go back to being a Habayit Hayehudi MK, to avoid having party secretary Nir Auerbach replace Yinon Magal, who quit the Knesset earlier this week amid sexual harassment claims.
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Auerbach was next in line to replace Magal, after Avi Wortzman, who occupied the spot on the party slate before him, announced that he preferred to remain director of Aleh Negev, a rehabilitation village for children with disabilities. Bennett’s associates stressed that Bennett “has no dispute with Auerbach and the move was made to enable him to continue to manage the party.”
Bennett had been the only minister to take advantage of the law passed in July that allows one minister from every coalition party to resign his Knesset seat to let the next person on the party roster enter parliament. Bennett had pushed for the law to be passed to allow Shuli Moalem-Rafaeli re-enter the Knesset, but since then he has frequently extolled the benefits of being able to focus on his ministerial duties.
Bennett’s decision launches a complicated bureaucratic process. First Bennett must resign from the Education Ministry, be sworn in as an MK on Monday, and then must once again secure Knesset approval to be reappointed education minister. Because Magal’s resignation goes into effect Wednesday, Wortzman will in fact be an MK until Monday.
In theory, Bennett could face difficulties being reappointed education minister if the opposition shows up for that vote in force while coalition MKs are absent. Likud MK Oren Hazan, for example, was suspended Tuesday by the Knesset Ethics Committee for a month.
Bennett’s decision flies in the face of his recent declarations regarding his ability to focus on the Education Ministry, rather than spending long hours in the Knesset so as to be present for votes. Only two weeks ago, he boasted that while the MKs had to remain in the plenum most of the night for the vote on the state budget, he was able to go to sleep. Until Tuesday, sources in his office insisted there was little chance he would retake his Knesset seat.
But after Wortzman, who was an MK and deputy education minister in the last Knesset, decided he would not return, Bennett decided he’d prefer to see Auerbach remain in his administrative position. Bennett’s associates noted, “The decision is reversible. If Wortzman decides in the coming weeks to enter the Knesset, the law can be invoked again to allow him to become an MK.”