Israeli cabinet OKs Liberman’s defense minister appointment

Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — The Israeli cabinet unanimously approved Avigdor Liberman’s appointment as Defense Minister, formalizing a coalition deal between his Yisrael Beiteinu party and Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud.

The cabinet vote Monday followed weeks of talks initiated by Prime Minister Netanyahu to afford his previous coalition of 61 lawmakers a broader majority of 66 lawmakers out of the 120 presiding in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, Israel Radio reported.

In the framework of the deal with Liberman’s right-wing party, it will also receive the immigrant absorption portfolio, with Sofa Lanver as minister. Another ministerial appointment is of Likud’s Tzachi Hanegbi to minister without portfolio in the Prime Minister’s Office.

The matter was brought to a vote after a compromise was reached between Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home party, who conditioned his joining the coalition on greater involvement by cabinet ministers in security decisions. He said the prime minister and defense minister did not inform other ministers of important military considerations, such as Hamas’ possession of terror tunnels ahead of the 2014 Gaza war.

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Bennett insisted on the appointment of a military secretary to the cabinet and greater access by ministers to classified information. Netanyahu offered to set up a committee to examine ways to implement these goals but Bennett rejected this offer, leading to a compromise under which the head of the National Security Council will act temporarily as the cabinet’s military secretary, pending a permanent solution.

The coalition talks follow the May 20 resignation of former defense minister Moshe Yaalon of Likud amid an open disagreement between him and Netanyahu over whether Israel Defense Forces officers are allowed to express themselves publicly on military and non-military issues.

The disagreement surfaced after Netanyahu condemned statements by Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan, who on May 5 said Israeli society was witnessing trends reminiscent of those visible in Nazi Germany. Yaalon encouraged IDF officers to continue to speak their minds after Netanyahu condemned Golan’s remarks.

Yaalon said his resignation was over “growing extremism” within Likud under Netanyahu. But Netanyahu said Yaalon had resigned because Netanyahu dismissed him as defense minister, offering to make him foreign minister instead.

On Friday, a second minister, Avi Gabai of the center-right Kulanu party, resigned, citing disagreements with Netanyahu over policy.

The Israeli coalition is currently made up of Likud, Kulanu, the Jewish Home, Yisrael Beitenu and the Haredi parties: Shas and Torah Judaism.

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