Analysis

Gay Conversion Scandal: Netanyahu's Four Cabinet Picks Would Shame Any Democracy

Each one of the prime minister's cabinet appointments would shame any enlightened and democratic country. Now ministers are wondering, has the magician lost his touch?

Netanyahu speaks to Education Minister Rafi Peretz at the Knesset plenum, May 2, 2019
Emil Salman

Appointments to a transitional government are very sensitive. If they are done at all, they should be few and well thought out. Their only purpose should be to improve the image of the outgoing government and raise the chances of the ruling party remaining in power after the election.

The four appointments made so far spark the idea that the person making them, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is acting with the exact opposite intentions: to uglify the government and harm its chances and those of Likud to return to power with an even stronger showing. Each appointment has been a grand own goal. Each one would shame any enlightened and democratic country and each one has made a number of ministers wonder yet again: Has the magician lost his touch?

Let’s go over them one at a time.

Netanyahu appointed super-sycophant lawmaker Amir Ohana as justice minister. To his credit, it should be said that the prime minister didn’t want Ohana, but who asked him? Certainly not his son Yair, whose messages Ohana parrots. “Not every ruling has to be enforced,” the learned jurist announced on the day he took up his post. That compelled Netanyahu to clarify that he did not agree with Ohana’s pronouncement. That was the first clarification.

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Next he appointed Union of Right-Wing Parties lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich as transport minister and a member of the inner cabinet. The appointments were preceded by statements from Smotrich that were on the one hand repugnant and on the other, ludicrous: that Israel should conduct itself as a state based on Jewish law and its judges should judge according to Jewish law. Then came Netanyahu’s clarification that he did not agree with those statements.

Lawmaker Amir Ohana (left), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center) and Lawmaker David Amsalem (right) at a Likud meeting at the Knesset, December 18, 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

We now have Rabbi Rafi Peretz, the chairman of Habayit Hayehudi, as education minister. Not yet a month in office, the newly minted minister, an “education man,” quickly embarrassed the prime minister when he said on Saturday on Channel 12 that conversion therapy can be successfully used on young gay people. Those infuriating statements, which reveal the depths of primitive homophobia and ignorance of the person now responsible for educating Israel’s children, some of whom are discovering or will discover that they are different, forced Netanyahu to issue an urgent clarification.

The stupidity of Peretz’s appointment to the transitional government preceded the foolishness of the dismissal of Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. Bennett is an experienced education minister. He kicked off the school year four times without problems, and would have done it a fifth time on September 1. Instead of leaving him at his post, Netanyahu replaced him with Peretz, who has zero ministerial, parliamentary and political experience, and who will have to deal with all the problems of a difficult ministry. The double dismissals were inane and did unnecessary damage to Bennett and Shaked. If they come back into the political world, they won’t forget it.

Under these circumstances, we can’t ignore the appointment of Likud lawmaker David Amsalem as communications minister. It proved to senior Likud officials that there’s only one criteria for advancement: obsequiousness and unlimited willingness to serve the imperial family. Amsalem, who was hidden in the previous election so as not to drive away the votes of moderate Likudniks, has this time been placed front and center. Netanyahu, the serial clarifier, has not yet been asked about any of Amsalem’s pronouncements. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time.