As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unloads his ministerial portfolios in light of his criminal indictments, he announced Friday that he will ask the cabinet to approve his choice of health minister. He has appointed Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, chairman of United Torah Judaism, who the police has also recommended be indicted.
Netanyahu, who is currently serving as health minister, informed the High Court of Justice that he would give up all his ministerial portfolios except for the premiership by December 31, following the indictments for bribery, fraud and breach of trust filed against him.
Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit told Netanyahu he would force him to resign from these ministerial positions if he does not step down of his own initiative; the 1993 Dery-Pinchasi ruling determined that a prime minister must fire ministers and deputies who have been indicted. However, Mendelblit also released a legal opinion stating that Netanyahu is not obligated to resign as prime minister because of the indictments.
Litzman served as deputy health minister under Netanyahu from 2009 to 2013, and has served in the Health Ministry since the present government was formed in 2015. He has held both the title of health minister and deputy health minister, but maintained full ministerial powers regardless of position.
In August, the police recommended indicting Litzman for bribery, fraud, witness tampering and breach of trust in two cases. In one case, Litzman allegedly tried to use his standing as deputy health minister to prevent accused pedophile Malka Leifer’s extradition to Australia, where she could face charges for 74 incidents of sexual assault and rape involving minors. His office denied any wrongdoing.
The second investigation focused on Litzman’s alleged improper intervention on behalf of a Jerusalem restaurant owned by one of his associates, in an effort to prevent its closure over serious sanitation violations that police say made a number of diners ill.
Netanyahu has been charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in a favorable news coverage for telecommunications benefits case (Case 4000), as well as fraud and breach of trust in cases pertaining to lavish gifts for political favors and favorable coverage in return for legislation (Cases 1000 and 2000). The indictment alleges that Netanyahu “placed himself in a conflict of interests between his public roles and his private affairs.”
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This Tuesday, the High Court will hold a hearing on whether a Knesset member under indictment can be tasked with forming a new government. Mendelblit said Thursday that he will not submit a legal opinion on the issue until the justices rule whether they will hear the petition or dismiss it out of hand.
Netanyahu is entitled to ask the Knesset to grant him immunity from prosecution by Friday, and if the Knesset does so, his trial will not begin as long as he still serves in the Knesset. The Knesset debate over granting Netanyahu immunity can only begin once a Knesset House Committee is formed, a step that is expected to take place only after the next election and a new government is formed.
Aside from the health portfolio, the prime minister currently holds three other ministerial portfolios: He serves as welfare minister, agriculture minister and Diaspora affairs minister. On Friday morning, Yossi Verter reported in Haaretz that Netanyahu will appoint two new ministers from the ranks of Likud and another from Shas.