Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Sunday that outgoing Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon – a hugely popular Likud member, of vote-winning Sephardi origin – will serve as the next head of the Israel Lands Authority.
News of the appointment of Kahlon, who is not running for the Knesset and hand announced that he was taking a time-out from politics – sparked fierce protest from Likud’s political opponents.
The director-general of the ILA, which manages the 93% of Israeli land that is state-owned or run, is appointed by the government. Netanyahu is pushing for a law to bring the authority under the aegis of the Prime Minister’s Office, which would render the Housing Ministry, a hitherto a much-coveted position since it has authority over the ILA, a much less substantial post.
According to the prime minister, Kahlon’s appointment – announced two days before the Israeli elections on Tuesday – is designed to bring in someone capable of lowering housing prices, especially for young couples and discharged IDF soldiers.
“I am sure that together with Minister Kahlon, we will bring down housing prices just as we have brought down cellular prices,” Netanyahu said at a press conference. Netanyahu, during the election campaign, has frequently hailed his government’s achievement in cutting cellphone bills by hundreds of shekels per household. Kahlon, as the relevant minister, led the reforms that reduced prices.
Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, head of the Central Election Committee, ordered Israeli media not to broadcast the press conference at which the appointment was announced, ruling that it could be regarded as election propaganda, which is banned in the final days leading up to the national vote.
The Labor Party promptly lodged a complaint against Kahlon’s nomination with Rubenstein, the attorney general and the state comptroller. It called Kahlon’s appointment a violation of the Basic Law governing the ILA and charged that it stemmed “from illegitimate motives that have direct implications on the legality of the action.”
Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich said Kahlon’s appointment was testament to Netanyahu’s panic over the Likud-Beytenu alliance’s slide in the polls. She added that everyone knew Kahlon resigned as communication minister in protest of Netanyahu’s economic and social policies, and said he was now being used as a “fig leaf” to cover what she called the prime minister’s disastrous policies.
Hatnua leader Tzipi Livni also charged that Kahlon’s appointment was an attempt by Netanyahu to halt his party’s decline, and that he would be a fig leaf.
“It’s a shame Kahlon agreed to participate in the elections spin, and didn’t insist that his appointment be announced after the elections,” Meretz chairwoman Zahava Galon said.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid said that ”Netanyahu proved once again that he prefers gimmicks to organized solutions to the serious problems of the Israeli middle class.”
Kahlon announced his temporary departure from political life last October. He stressed, however, that “obviously I’m not leaving the Likud,” and promised to work for the party to ensure it won the elections.
Kahlon was elected as a Likud MK in 2003. Political analysts regard Kahlon – one of seven children of immigrants from Libya – as a vital link between the Likud’s top leaders and the rank-and-file Sephardi supporters of the party. He was one of only two ministers of Sephardi origin in the Likud ranks in the outgoing government.