Israel's 34th Government Sworn in After Stormy Debate

Knesset approves cabinet in vote of 61-59; Netanyahu's presentation of cabinet met with heckles by the plenum; MK Silvan Shalom named interior minister, Likud No. 2 Erdan not given ministerial position.

Olivier Fitoussi

The Knesset plenum voted on Thursday in a vote of 61-59 in favor of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet, paving the way for the swearing in of Israel's 34th government. 

Netanyahu convened the Knesset at 9 P.M. to present the government. The prime minister's presentation was met with fierce heckles and disruption from the plenum, following a stormy day of portfolio distribution and disagreements within the ruling party over the ministerial positions.

Likud MK Gilad Erdan, who is number 2 on the party list, was not given a ministerial position and was not present during the presentation to the Knesset.

Netanyahu scrambled to distribute the remaining cabinet portfolios to the Knesset members of his Likud party on Wednesday evening, after the Knesset proposal to expand the government to an unlimited number of ministers to the previously capped 18 positions. The Knesset deliberations were meant to begin at 7 P.M. on Thursday, but were postponed due to disagreements over the portfolios.

At the last minute, MK Silvan Shalom was told that he would receive the interior ministry. MK Gila Gamliel will be the minister for gender and minority equality, and the advancement of youth and pensioners. MK Danny Danon was given the science and space portfolio.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz will retain the transport portfolio, and will receive the intelligence portfolio as well. Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon will retain his position as well. MK Yuval Steinitz will be appointed as minister of energy and infrastructure, and will have a seat in the security cabinet. MK Yariv Levin will hold the public security ministry and the tourism ministry.

The prime minister chose to keep the communication ministry and the foreign ministry portfolio, the latter possibly to be used later to entice the Zionist Union into the coalition. MK Tzipi Hotovely will serve as deputy foreign minister. 

One of the most pitched battles in the party was resolved when it was announced that MK Haim Katz would get the Welfare and Social Affairs Ministry that he had thought was his from the beginning.

His challenger for the post, MK Miri Regev, will make do with the Culture and Sport Ministry. Regev and Netanyahu have had a hostile relationship for the past few years, which Regev tried to improve during the recent election campaign. She is considered to be a loyal ally of Netanyahu's political rival, Gideon Sa'ar, and several Likud officials have warned Netanyahu about putting a "Sa'ar extension" inside the cabinet.

Likud MKs Benny Begin and Ofir Akunis will serve as ministers without portfolio.

MK Tzachi Hanegbi was not given a ministerial position. Netanyahu said in his presentation to Knesset that the senior lawmakers would serve as coalition whip and chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, but Hanegbi told Haaretz from outside the plenum auditorium: "Is that true? I haven't agreed to the positioned offered to me by the prime minister."

The Likud issued a clarification shortly after, saying that Hanegbi and Akunis would swap positions within a year.

Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett will serve as education minister, his colleagues Ayelet Shaked will head the justice ministry and Uri Ariel will be agriculture minister.

Kulanu Chairman Moshe Kahlon is the new finance minister, co-party member Yoav Galant will be housing minister, and Avi Gabai will apparently be environmental protection minister.

From Shas, chairman Arye Dery will take the economy ministry and the portfolio for the development of the Galilee and Negev. David Azoulay will head the religious affairs ministry.

United Torah Judaism MK Ya'akov Litzman will once again serve as deputy health minister.