I am a big baseball fan. Looking at the last year, it is easy to view the Knesset and compare it to baseball. The Knesset went to elections after a winter of MKs switching teams and the emergence of new parties. It has been a long 168-day season so far since the election of the 20th Knesset on March 17th 2015. Following the spring training, the new MKs officially took their seats on March 31st 2015. Today, on September 2nd, as the Knesset approaches the fall and marathon of budget votes, the rosters of the Knesset and cabinet members went through a series of changes. Another round of changes is expected before the fall classic, the Israeli state budget.
The Knesset took a break from their summer recess to approve the budget in its first reading. The Knesset also welcomed a new minister, a minister promotion to a ministry, three new MKs and a lot of gossip. Let’s go through it.
Two holes in the cabinet were created over the last week for two very different reasons.
Danny Danon (Likud) decided to accept the appointment as the Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations General Assembly in New York. After the cabinet approved the measure Danon automatically vacated a spot in Netanyahu’s 20-minister cabinet as a result of the vote. A list of five Likud MKs pushed for Danon’s spot. The two main candidates were Benny Begin (who resigned from his cabinet post earlier in the term to make room for the return of Likud’s #2 Gilad Erdan) and Coalition Chairman Tzachi Hanegbi (who is promised an appointment to a cabinet post as part of a rotation agreement with Minister Akunis). Former Minister Avi Dichter and Deputy Ministers Kara and Hotovely also thought they should get Danon’s job.
Meanwhile, thanks to a petition by opposition party Yesh Atid, the Supreme Court placed Netanyahu in a situation where he would be forced to legally appoint Ya’acov Litzman (UTJ) as a Minister. Litzman had been serving as the Deputy Health Minister who was conducting himself as the Minister under an agreement with Netanyahu. UTJ had refused to take on Minister positions for decades for what they claimed was religious reasons. UTJ’s Great Council of Sages found a loophole in the religious reasoning and approved Litzman’s appointment. Netanyahu gave Danon’s 20th spot in cabinet to Litzman instead of promoting a Likud MK. Litzman’s appointment was approved by the Knesset today.
Although Litzman had taken Danon’s position in the cabinet, Netanyahu had to make the decision which current Likud Minister would get Danon’s Science & Technology Ministry. A few Likud Ministers competed for the position. Netanyahu chose to promote Minister-without-portfolio Ophir Akunis to the Science & Technology portfolio. Akunis will still remain with the authority he was given in the Communications Ministry as well. The Akunis appointment was also brought to the Knesset today.
There are rumors that Netanyahu will seek to expand the cabinet from 20-ministers to 21 in order to add an additional Likud Minister. The Likud had 12 of the 20 cabinet spots before the Danon resignation and now have 11 of 20.
Besides opening up a cabinet position (filled by Litzman), and a ministry position (filled by Akunis), the Danny Danon UN appointment also opened up an MK position, which was filled by Sharren Haskel, who was next in line on the Likud list. Haskel was officially sworn in during today’s Knesset session. Haskel is the 30th female MK which brings the number of female MKs to 25% of its membership for the first time in Knesset history.
Yesh Atid’s #2 Shai Piron announced today his resignation which will go into effect in 48-hours on Friday. Former Hatnua/Livni Party MK Elazar Stern is the next name on the list and will serve as a Yesh Atid MK for the rest of the term.
Yisrael Beitenu’s Sharon Gal also announced his resignation today. Gal is the second Yisrael Beitenu MK to choose to leave so far this term. The next name on the list that will take his place is Oded Forer.
Are more fresh faces on the way? There are rumors that another MK’s resignation might be imminent. Additionally, the legal troubles of Likud MK Oren Hazan are increasing with the police recommending an indictment.
Following the passage of the Norwegian Law there should be up to five new MKs before the opening of the winter recess. The law enables a minister from each coalition party to quit the Knesset in favor of the next name on their party’s list and return if they quit their cabinet post. Before the passage of the law it was impossible to return to Knesset during the same term if a minister left their cabinet post.
Shas leader Arye Deri, Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett and Kulanu head Moshe Kahlon are expected to quit the Knesset to bring in the next people on their list. Former 3-term Shas MK Avraham Michaeli will replace Deri in the Knesset. Former Bayit Yehudi MK Shuli Mualem will replace Bennett. Former Kadima MK Akram Hasson is the next person on the Kulanu list after the person ahead of Hasson took a job as Kahlon’s CEO of the Finance Ministry. It is unclear yet who will resign for UTJ’s former MK Ya’akov Asher because of internal political disagreements. Rumors have it that Akunis will resign from Knesset to let in the next Likud member on the list, Amir Ohana, who would be the first openly gay Likud MK. The rumors claim Akunis had to agree to resign from Knesset in order to get Danon’s portfolio.
The budget passed in its first reading today by the vote of 57-53. Israel’s 2016 budget allocates for the first time more to education (NIS 60.6b) than to defense (NIS 56b) per Jerusalem Post’s Lahav Harkov.