Ministers Kahlon, Bennett Oppose Likud Bid to Add Minister to Cabinet

Netanyahu wants to bring in veteran Hanegbi to replace Shalom, who resigned over sexual harassment claims, but Kahlon and Bennett say it would upset coalition balance.

Education Minister Bennett, left, with Finance Minister Kahlon.
Olivier Fitoussi

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Education Minister Naftali Bennett have come out on Sunday in opposition to Likud’s bid to add another minister to the cabinet.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had planned to make MK Tzachi Hanegbi a minister to replace another Likud member, Silvan Shalom, who resigned from the cabinet last month over sexual harassment allegations. But the heads of Kulanu and Habayit Hayehudi argue that Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, despite belonging to United Torah Judaism, actually counts as a Likud appointment, so adding another Likud minister would upset the balance among coalition parties in the cabinet.

To underscore his objections, Kahlon boycotted a meeting of the heads of the coalition parties on Sunday.

The original coalition agreements allotted Likud an extra minister because UTJ, which would normally have gotten that slot, has traditionally refused to accept cabinet appointments. Consequently, Litzman joined the government as deputy health minister, with Netanyahu serving as minister. But Litzman was later upgraded to minister on orders from the High Court of Justice, which said he couldn’t serve as the minister de facto without accepting the title.

Once Litzman became a full minister, Kahlon and Bennett believed Likud was no longer entitled to its extra cabinet seat, but concluded that Netanyahu couldn’t reasonably be asked to fire a sitting minister from his own party. Now that Shalom has resigned of his own accord, however, Kahlon and Bennett argue that Likud shouldn’t be allowed to appoint another minister in his stead.

Netanyahu had planned to appoint Hanegbi as part of a broader cabinet shake-up under which Arye Dery (Shas) would become interior minister in place of Shalom, while Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (Likud) would become economy minister in place of Dery, who vacated the post in November to avoid having to approve the government’s deal with the natural gas monopoly.