Israel’s Cabinet meeting Tuesday descended into chaos, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a surprise move to have Ofir Akunis, his pick for Justice Minister, selected amid cries that the action was “illegal.”
Israel has not had a justice minister for a month. Netanyahu was told one must be appointed, even temporarily, while they try to build a government. However, the Blue and White party, under an agreement made last year with Bibi and Likud, would get to pick the person. And they picked Benny Gantz, the Blue and White party leader. The Cabinet vote did not pass. Then Netanyahu decided to offer his candidate—Akunis—someone loyal to Bibi even as he is on trial for serious corruption charges.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, along with ministers from the Likud and Blue and White parties and Netanyahu got into a shouting match after the Likud majority successfully installed Akunis into the influential post. Mandelblit made it clear to Netanyahu that such a move was absolutely illegal.
The High Court of Justice temporarily halted the appointment hours after the meeting while the legality of the vote could be sorted out. The court said the position would be left vacant until a ruling occurred.
After the chaotic Cabinet meeting, Gantz said the prime minister tried “to undermine the foundations of democracy. [Netanyahu’s] belligerent and illegal conduct must be stopped now.”
Attorney General Mandelblit strongly objected to Akunis’ selection, saying it violated the Basic Law (Israel’s Basic Law is our constitution).
Netanyahu has managed to keep the justice position from being permanently filled for months. Critics claim by doing so, he is deliberately weakening the judicial system at a time when his criminal trials are in process. The Justice Minister is also a key in the legislative process in Israel. No new laws, especially one proposed that would prevent Netanyahu from holding office due to his corruption charges, can pass without a Justice Minister’s oversight.
Meanwhile, some have been questioning Netanyahu’s soundness to continue in office due to his most recent proposal for staying in power, the so-called “Putin Plan.” With only a week left for him to form a governing coalition, Netanyahu continues to search for partners who will let him remain in the prime minister’s residence while others serve in the position.
It has been nicknamed the “Putin Plan” for its resemblance to the Russian dictator’s agreement with Dmitry Medvedev from 2008 to 2012. When Putin was constitutionally barred from serving again as president, the two worked out a deal where Medvedev would be president, and Putin became his prime minister until he could again reign as premier.
The High Court in Israel was expected to rule on the Justice Minister vote by Wednesday. However, prior to the court stepping in, Netanyahu opted to reverse course and agree to Gantz as a temporary Justice Minister. The Cabinet met virtually and approved the appointment. Netanyahu refused to concede, however, that the original selection of Akunis was illegal.
Netanyahu has until May 4 to form a governing coalition of 61 Knesset members. However, meetings are ongoing with leaders of other parties seeking to form a unity government without Likud or Netanyahu.