Netanyahu Expected to Hand Education Ministry to Far-right Party

Prime minister said before election that Likud would hold the education portfolio, but is now expected to renege and give it to Union of Right-Wing Parties

Prime Minister Netanyahu at the President's Residence.
Olivier Fitoussi

Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to award the post of education minister to the Union of Right-Wing Parties, despite the prime minister's indications during the election campaign that the position should stay with his Likud party.

The allocation of the portfolio is a subject of the coalition talks that officially began Thursday after President Reuven Rivlin asked Netanyahu to form the next government.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 23Haaretz

The talks are being delayed, however, because the prime minister wants to meet with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, the Kulanu party leader who is in Europe on vacation. Netanyahu seeks to merge Kulanu into Likud and is willing to reappoint Kahlon as finance chief and give Kulanu Knesset member Eli Cohen a cabinet post.

>> What U.S. Jews can expect from the next Netanyahu government — and it's not religious pluralism

At a meeting with Likud MKs before the April 9 election, Netanyahu spoke about the education system's importance in instilling the values of Zionism and excellence into the country's children.

The initial meetings between Likud and the parties that are expected to join the new government will not take place until after Passover, which begins Friday evening and ends a week later, though unofficial contacts are expected to take place during the holiday. Likud's Yariv Levin, a close associate of Netanyahu, is heading the coalition talks for Likud.

The main point of concern for the prime minister is legislation on the military conscription of ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students, who have been exempted from the draft. Due to litigation over prior legislation on the subject, the new government will face a court-imposed July 28 deadline to pass a new law on the matter.

Yisrael Beiteinu chief Avigdor Lieberman, who resigned as defense minister in November, has threatened that his party will not join the new government if "even a comma" is changed in a bill on the issue that had been backed by the Defense Ministry.

The ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party has made threats of its own, saying that its campaign staff has been told to be ready for a new election if its demands for the continued exemption of ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students are not met.

Both United Torah Judaism and the other ultra-Orthodox party in the Knesset, Shas, have demanded changes to the proposed legislation, and Netanyahu seeks to break the logjam.

The prime minister has not made a final decision on who will become justice minister, a position that both Levin and Bezalel Smotrich, a leader of the Union of Right-Wing Parties, have been eyeing. Netanyahu has also not decided whether to challenge the judiciary with an all-out confrontation on the extent of its powers.

Kulanu party leader Moshe Kahlon.
Nir Keidar

Although right-wing politicians have sought legislation letting the Knesset relegislate laws struck down by the Supreme Court, Netanyahu has expressed concerns that such bill would face opposition within the new coalition government. Such legislation could include demands by MKs for provisions such as the nonrecognition of Reform Jewish conversions performed abroad, which are currently recognized for granting Israeli citizenship.

Just before the election, Netanyahu told the weekly Makor Rishon that he would have supported legislation permitting an override of Supreme Court rulings invalidating Knesset laws, but Kulanu objected. "Let's see whether [Kulanu] changes its position now," he said.

But Netanyahu also suggested that, if the Supreme Court sees that a Knesset majority supports override legislation, it may not be necessary to pass such a bill.

"I'm a classic democrat who believes in balance among the branches of government, and this balance has unraveled from time to time in Israel," he said. "There are various ways of restoring it and we will consider them during the next term. I'm not sure we will come to this."

Meanwhile, several Likud officials are eyeing the job of foreign minister, which Netanyahu held in the outgoing government but will be giving up. If the Defense Ministry doesn't revert to Lieberman, Netanyahu intends to keep it for himself, as he did after Lieberman resigned in November.

The Communications Ministry will also remain with Likud, and Netanyahu wants to retain the Immigrant Absorption Ministry as well, disappointed with the way the ministry has handled the immigration and integration of Ethiopian Jews.