Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has placed Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon in charge of the Social Affairs Ministry for the next three months, a decision that was approved by the government Wednesday.
Netanyahu was previously expected to take the responsibility upon himself, a move that has drawn criticism from the resigning minister, Isaac Herzog (Labor), and from social services organizations.
The role changes within the government were propelled this week by Defense Minister Ehud Barak's withdrawal from Labor and the resignation of ministers Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Avishay Braverman from their posts.
As part of the new arrangement, MK Shalom Simhon, who withdrew along with Barak to form the Independence faction, was put in charge of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry as well as the Minority Affairs Ministry.
MK Orit Noked (Independence) is replacing Simhon as agriculture minister, while MK Einat Wilf (Independence) was appointed as a committee chairman.
Netanyahu said that a separate ministry will be established to deal with home front defense, headed by MK Matan Vilnai (Independence). The prime minister noted that such ministries exist in other nations, including the US, "even though no other nation has experienced the rocket threat like us. The State of Israel needs a minister that would take care of the issue separately all the more."
MK Hasson sprays air freshener (Photo: Knesset Channel)
The appointments were officially recognized by the government during a special meeting, which was followed by a swear-in ceremony held for the incoming ministers.
"The government is becoming stronger today," Netanyahu said during the meeting. "I think this is clear to the people of Israel, to the entire world and to our Palestinian neighbors as well. It's important for the progress of the peace process and the progress of our administration."
'Social Affairs not sexy'
Herzog slammed Netanyahu on Tuesday for intending to take over the social affairs duties. "I inform you, prime minister, it's not a sexy area," he said in a farewell speech. "Hard work is required to resolve Israel's social problems, which must be addressed every day and hour from below, on the field, with seriousness and persistence - without photographers, and without opening editions on prime time."
The Social Workers Union welcomed Netanyahu's decision to appoint a minister to the case. Union Chairman Itzik Perry said that the dedication indicates that the prime minister values the social cause greatly.
"Minister Kahlon is a brave minister, who has already proven his ability to lead important reform," Perry said. "From our acquaintance with him and his positions on social issues, we believe that he will know to lead the necessary social reform that the State of Israel needs."
It is still unclear how members of Shas will respond to Kahlon's appointment. The ultra-Orthodox party agreed to accept Netanyahu's initial decision to take the Social Affairs Ministry upon himself, and warned against a crisis within the coalition should a replacement be found for Herzog.
The new appointments, as well as Barak's resignation from Labor, drew harsh criticism from the opposition. Kadima members sprayed air fresheners in the plenum during Noked's swearing in ceremony.. MKs Yoel Hasson and Nahman Shai were removed from the plenum.
"I've been here for 30 years, and I've never witnessed a dirtier trick," Kadima MK Meir Sheetrit said.
"I'm not certain that Barak is worthy of being the State of Israel's defense minister. I'm surprised the prime minister supported his move," he said.
Fellow Kadima member Ruhama Avraham Balila said, "I admit I was shocked when Barak compared the actions of the 'secret five' (four ex-Labor members and Netanyahu) to the actions of (David) Ben-Gurion and (Ariel) Sharon."
Addressing Barak directly, Balila said "You brought down (Ehud) Olmert's government; you formed this extreme right government; what will you tell your grandchildren? You will end your public life as a lowly politician in the Lilliput nation you head."
The Knesset later approved cabinet's announcement on the new appointments by a 53-40 vote.
Roni Sofer and Yael Branovsky contributed to this report.
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