Edelstein to Serve as Health Minister in Netanyahu-Gantz Government

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Yuli Edelstein at a press conference in Jerusalem, January 12, 2020.
Yuli Edelstein at a press conference in Jerusalem, January 12, 2020. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Former Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein accepted Tuesday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's offer to serve as health minister in the government that will be sworn in on Thursday. Edelstein will lead the coronavirus task force and will also be a member of the security cabinet. 

"I have chosen to answer the central, significant challenge that Israel is faced with – the fight against the coronavirus which has brought new challenges to the health system," said Edelstein, who has served as Knesset speaker for seven years and is expected to be replaced by Likud's Yariv Levin after the government is sworn in.  

"I am happy to announce this evening that Former Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein has risen to the challenge, and from a number of important portfolios in Likud's hands, he chose the health portfolio," Netanyahu said in a joint statement with Edelstein. 

In March, Edelstein, who acted as Knesset speaker on behalf of Likud refused to fulfill a High Court ruling calling on him to convene the Knesset in order to vote on his successor. He resigned and was replaced by Kahol Lavan Leader Benny Gantz. The move led to the splitting of Gantz's party and an eventual coalition agreement with Netanyahu. Gantz's party insisted that Edelstein not return to his former post as Knesset speaker in coalition negotiations.

The health portfolio had been requested by current Defense Minister Naftali Bennett. Following Edelstein's appointment, a source in Bennett's right-wing Yamina party announced that Netanyahu "destroyed the alliance with religious Zionism" and the party will sit in the opposition. 

Earlier on Tuesday, the Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman Tov submitted his resignation. Bar Siman Tov lead the ministry's response to the coronavirus. 

Outgoing Health Minister Yaakov Litzman announced last month that he will serve as minister of housing in the next government. Litzman was heavily criticized for his handling of the coronavirus crisis. In its early stages, he excluded the ultra-Orthodox community from the country’s social distancing regulations, and even promised that the messiah would come and put an end to the epidemic.

Litzman congratulated Edelstein: “I am sure that as health minister he can lead the health system through the struggle against the coronavirus epidemic and all other challenges, with the help of god.” Litzman added that he would begin working with Edelstein to prepare him for the job in the coming days.

On Monday, Netanyahu announced that Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan will take on the post of Israel's Ambassador to both the United States and the United Nations. Erdan reportedly accepted the offer because he realized many Likud lawmakers were vying for relatively few government portfolios in the new government.

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