Tense cabinet meeting: Bennett rejects Netanyahu for defense

In light of the heightened terror threat, the defense ministry deserves a full-time head, the Jewish Home party argued in an acrimonious exchange.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The Sunday morning cabinet meeting descended into a vociferous argument between Likud and the right-wing Jewish Home (Bayit Yehudi) ministers when Prime Minister Netanyahu appointed himself as permanent defense minister.

The prime minister has been holding four ministerial positions since former Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party left the government last month. Netanyahu said he will appoint others to lead the Immigrant Absorption and Foreign Ministries, the latter of which he has held since 2015, but maintain the defense portfolio.

At the cabinet meeting, he made the first move towards making the title permanent by calling for a vote on the matter before taking it to the Knesset.

When the voting began, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the Jewish Home party said she would abstain, adding that her leader, Naftali Bennett, should be given the job.

Last month, after Hamas launched 480 rockets at Israel over a two-day period, Bennett threatened to pull his party out of the shrunken coalition and bring down the government unless given the defense ministry. He later retracted his demand and backed down.

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Netanyahu interrupted the vote on Sunday and opened the floor for discussion, during which Likud and Jewish Home ministers faulted each other for what they said was the lack of deterrence that led to the latest string of Palestinian terrorist attacks.

Sharp words were exchanged regarding who was responsible for the destruction of terrorists’ homes.  One Likud minister attacked Shaked, who heads the justice ministry, for the courts’ delay of demolitions, while Bennett came to her defense, stating, “If only the defense system would do half of what Ayelet has done in the Justice Ministry.”

Shaked and Bennett insisted that the security situation demanded a full-time defense minister. Netanyahu shot back that “the security apparatus is operating excellently.”

Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) reminded the Jewish Home ministers that several prime ministers, including David Ben-Gurion, had served in both capacities, saying that those leaders did a fine job handling the two senior positions simultaneously.

“Bennett opened the morning with a protest against the government, of which he is a member, and then proceeded to put on a childish horror show at the cabinet meeting in a desperate attempt to get the defense portfolio. Israel’s security is above politics and the defense portfolio is not there to be a job arrangement for Naftali Bennett,” the Likud stated following the raucous meeting.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu is paralyzed by the threat of the jurists and the Hague,” the Jewish Home responded in a statement. “The enemy recognizes this and therefore stopped being afraid. Instead of fighting the Jewish Home, the time has come for the prime minister to extricate himself from the fake justice and fake morality handcuffs and to fight terrorism.”

Despite Sunday’s harsh words, party officials suggested that although the Jewish Home abstained in the cabinet vote, the party will maintain coalition discipline when it comes to approving Netanyahu as defense minister in the Knesset.