Israeli Cabinet resignations expose coalition tensions


What happened: United Torah Judaism (UTJ) MK Meir Porush yesterday resigned from his role as minister responsible for the annual Lag B’Omer Mount Meron festival.

  • Porush cited broken promises from coalition negotiations over his level of control over arrangements for the festival, amid a power struggle between Porush, the Shas-controlled Religious Affairs Ministry, and the festival’s previous organisers at the National Center for the Development of Holy Sites.
  • His resignation follows that of Noam Party head and Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Avi Maoz on Monday.
  • Similarly claiming broken coalition negotiation pledges, Moaz said in his resignation statement that he “was shocked to find there was no serious intention of honouring the coalition deal regarding [the formation of] an authority of Jewish identity.”
  • Prime Minister Netanyahu is also facing other complaints from the ultra-Orthodox UTJ, concerning budget allocations for ultra-Orthodox education.
  • One UTJ member said, “The Likud thinks that coalition commitments are one-way, but they aren’t. If they don’t respect the agreements, we won’t be committed to the coalition. They have a majority without us. I hope they enjoy it. We won’t let the Haredi public get trampled.”
  • Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s Jewish Power faction is also angry over recent security policy and over plans to allow UTJ members to vote with their conscience on the bill to introduce the death penalty for terrorists.
  • Externally, the government yesterday faced fresh criticism of its plans for judicial reform from former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit and former president of the Supreme Court Dorit Beinisch.
  • Speaking at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University on Tuesday night, Mandelblit said of the plans: “We are experiencing a regime coup, not so-called legal reforms… What laws are they advancing these very days? The precise laws that will damage the independence of the legal institutions and abolish their role as democratic safeguards in the State of Israel.”
  • Meanwhile, the large-scale popular protests seen since the announcement of the reform agenda will continue today as organisers implement a ‘day of disruption’.
  • Elsewhere, the latest public polling from Channel 12 showed low levels of support for the government’s current performance.

Context: Ministerial responsibility for the Mount Meron festival was introduced following a 2021 disaster in which a faulty walkway caused a stampede which killed 45 people at the festival.

  • Porush has not resigned from his other roles as minister for Jerusalem Affairs and Jewish Tradition, though UTJ sources are briefing that he is considering a full cabinet resignation.
  • While greater coalition discipline and cohesion might have been expected so early in the life of the government, there is no compelling evidence that it is yet seriously threatened internally.
  • Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said yesterday: “It’s clear to me that none of the members who have presented ultimatums and sent letters of resignation are thinking about bringing down the government and don’t want to destabilise it. Maybe they’re allowing themselves to act this way precisely because of the government’s stability, but that is dangerous and irresponsible.”
  • Moaz’s appointment in January was met with outrage by opposition figures angered by his record of anti-LGBTQ positions.
  • Despite Friday’s two-year state budget approved by the cabinet including an apparent 40% rise (NIS 2.5 billion or $682 million) for ultra-Orthodox education, ultra-Orthodox lawmakers are said to be pressing for the full funding parity with secular education it says it was promised in coalition negotiations.
  • A party official is quoted today as saying “The Likud thinks that coalition commitments are one-way, but they aren’t. If they don’t respect the agreements, we won’t be committed to the coalition. They have a majority without us. I hope they enjoy it. We won’t let the Haredi public get trampled.”
  • Ben Gvir is known to oppose the restrained security response to recent Palestinian terror, with the Security Cabinet not yet convened since two separate attacks saw three Israelis killed in the last week.
  • Prior to and following Sunday’s Aqaba summit, and in anticipation of Ramadan, Israel has responded to US-brokered efforts to reduce tensions and allow the Palestinian Authority the opportunity to reassert some control in the West Bank.
  • Ben Gvir is also said to be angered that he wasn’t briefed on the summit in advance, with Netanyahu keeping the circle of senior security decision-makers small and circumventing the National Security minister.
  • Netanyahu has long opposed moves to introduce the death penalty for terrorists.
  • Mandelblit, formerly a close associate of Netanyahu, called on his successor as Attorney General and the High Court to annul legislation threatening Israel’s “liberal democratic” nature. To do so would not only be their right, he said, but their democratic duty.
  • Channel 12’s poll showed public satisfaction with the government at 33% on the economy and 24% on personal security.
  • Netanyahu, Ben Gvir, and Smotrich’s personal approval ratings were at 35, 32, and 30% respectively.

Looking ahead: The Constitution, Law and Justice Committee is set to vote today on two elements of the judicial reforms restricting judicial review.

  • The reforms will then pass to the Knesset plenum for a first reading, possibly as early as next week.
  • Two other reform bills which have already passed a first plenum reading are also set to be allocated to committees:
    • The so-called “Deri Law”, restricting the High Court’s ability to overrule ministerial appointments.
    • A bill reducing the authority of the State Attorney’s office over the Police Internal Investigations Department, in preference to the Justice Ministry.
  • An initial reading is also expected of a bill reducing the circumstances under which the recusal of a sitting Prime Minister can be ordered.