Analysis

This Is How a Likud Backbencher Got Netanyahu to Appoint Him Justice Minister

There was no greater supporter to amend the Immunity Law for Netanyahu or to pass an override clause than Amir Ohana, who is also close to Yair Netanyahu

Amir Ohana in Tel Aviv, February 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

Amir Ohana will the first justice minister in Israeli history who was appointed due to one dominant characteristic: His long tongue. Ohana’s canine-like loyalty and total obsequiousness to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, repeatedly demonstrated in interviews dripping with flattery on the one hand and venom toward the Supreme Court and institutional gatekeepers on the other, paid off, big-time.

There was no greater supporter of the initiative to amend the Immunity Law for Netanyahu or to pass an administrative override clause that was also aimed at helping the potential accused avoid trial.

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He won’t be much of a justice minister. This is a transitional government where there is no Knesset and no Ministerial Committee for Legislation. He will influence the way the system is run about as much as the sleepy guard at the Justice Ministry headquarters on Jerusalem’s Salah e-Din Street.

But Netanyahu isn’t expecting him to change anything, implement reforms, or fix what needs fixing. He is sending him to the ministry so that he will represent him and his wife in the halls and rooms swarming with prosecutors who soon will be required to decide their fates. He is expecting Ohana to instill awe – and if necessary, to pass on information.

Ohana draws his power primarily from his relationship with Yair Netanyahu. Of all the members of the party, there is no one closer to the crown prince, which also makes him the darling of the prime minister’s wife.

This explains the suddenness with which his candidacy emerged out of the clear blue sky on Tuesday. Until then, it was never mentioned. Talk was of ministers Yariv Levin (who to his credit refused to serve as a temporary minister without any authority or influence), Zeev Elkin, Ophir Akunis and Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely. But Elkin has a long-running problem with Sara Netanyahu. Akunis, who was once Netanyahu’s mouthpiece, has become obsolete as his tongue weakened and faded. Hotovely, whom Sara actually likes, and who is an authentic representative of religious Zionism, will be upgraded in any case.

By appointing Ohana to a senior, important role, which includes statutory membership in the security cabinet and inclusion in restricted and secret forums, Netanyahu was giving a middle finger to a lot of others in his faction. He skipped over the first two rows and pulled out of the third row an MK for whom this is only his second term. That’s how Netanyahu makes it clear to the others what’s expected of them.

There are those who will argue that the appointment of a justice minister – or any minister – who is gay is good news for Israeli society. If we recall Ohana’s courageous embrace of “Captain George,” that same despicable creature, a benighted homophobe and proud racist, who Netanyahu presented during the election campaign as proof that his supporters are real people and not “bots,” the enthusiasm wanes a bit.

Over the past four years Ohana hasn’t made any particular effort to advance interests of the LGBTQ community. His consistent excuse was his commitment to coalition discipline. Over time this evolved into personal discipline in service of the leader, and on Wednesday he got his reward.