Israeli politics reached a new level of absurdity on Tuesday when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who is facing three separate corruption charges – allocated the justice portfolio to himself, on top of his other ministries.
The move leaves Netanyahu, who has served as Israel’s premier continuously for the last decade, in control of four ministries –in addition to the prime minister’s office– including Defense, Health, Education and, now, Justice.
Netanyahu’s decision to retain the justice portfolio for himself, effectively immunizing himself from the law, has left him open to harsh criticism, as he has effectively put himself in charge of the very officials tasked with scrutinizing his own alleged improprieties.
Three criminal cases have hung heavily over Netanyahu since February, when Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced he would indict Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust over his relationships with media moguls, which are alleged to have involved political favoritism.
Filling the post of justice minister fell to Netanyahu after he axed from his cabinet Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday, two lawmakers who failed to return to the parliament after their upstart New Right party failed to get enough votes in April’s national elections.
But Netanyahu’s curious decision to hoard portfolios would seem to result from his hesitation over appointing a religious rival to one post, precisely when he is coming under public criticism for granting too many concessions to religious parties.
After he failed to appoint a replacement for Shaked, judiciary officials said that it was unthinkable for Netanyahu to retain the post for himself. “Netanyahu cannot fill in for the Justice Minister for even a single day,” unnamed Israeli figures told Israel’s Channel 13.
“The prime minister must immediately appoint a replacement for the Justice Ministry,” said the Movement for Quality Government, an Israeli civil society group, calling Netanyahu’s assumption of the post “a shameful political trick that harms the public trust in the legal system.”
“It’s not only psychotic that he will serve even for a second as justice minister – he should have been forbidden from even firing the [previous] justice minister, and from hiring a new justice minister,” tweeted prominent independent journalist and anti-corruption activist Or-ly Barlev.
After Netanyahu failed to form a government in the six weeks allotted to him after winning at the polls in April, his ruling Likud party led the parliament in dissolving itself, setting the stage for new national elections, to be held on September 17.