Â Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided Tuesday to appoint Professor Daniel Friedman, winner of the 1991 Israel Prize for achievements in the field of law, to replace MK Haim Ramon as Israel’s new justice minister, Israel Radio reported. Earlier, Olmert’s associates said the two other top candidates were former education minister and Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center president Amnon Rubinstein, and the institution’s current president, Uriel Reichman.
Olmert’s aides spoke to both men on Monday.
Rubinstein said he had two major reservations about accepting the position: his age, 75, and his commitment to begin a six-month sabbatical at New York’s Columbia University in the fall.
Earlier Tuesday, Reichman cleared the air regarding the reports he was one of the candidates.
“I have no intention of leaving the IDC,” ran Reichman’s press release on Tuesday. “I never was and am still not a candidate for the
justice minister position,” it said.
Reichman explained he was beginning his term as president of the IDC and that this new position would not allow him to be a minister.
“Just a few days ago, I came back to serve as the President of IDC Herzliya. On the eve of my return I set our goals for the five years to come. I plan to dedicate the next five years of my life to achieving those goals and fulfill the vision of building our Research Center in the Galilee.”
The reshuffle of cabinet ministers hit a standstill on Monday, due to Labor Party infighting. Sources close to party chairman Amir Peretz said he believed the best candidate to give up his current portfolio and shift to the Social Affairs Ministry was Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog.
Cabinet secretary Yisrael Maimon and coalition chairman Avigdor Yitzhaki met with Labor’s secretary-general Eitan Cabel and faction chairman Yoram Marciano on Monday and told them the party could receive the Social Affairs portfolio in return for any of Labor’s portfolios other than the Science, Culture and Sports Ministry. Peretz decided it would be best for Labor to give up the least prestigious of its remaining portfolios, the Tourism Ministry.
Peretz’s associates noted that Herzog said on camera during the election campaign it was important Labor receive the Social Affairs portfolio and that he would be honored to be the minister. But they expressed doubt that Herzog would accept the low-budget ministry, because it was “not glamorous enough for him.”
Informed of Peretz’s decision by The Jerusalem Post, Herzog responded: “The Social Affairs Ministry is very important and I have the greatest respect for it, but I want to stay in my ministry and I find this game of musical chairs very problematic. It’s bad for Israel and for business, and I believe that someone else suitable for the position can be found.”
Labor officials said Herzog then complained angrily to Peretz’s aides about their pressure to remove him from his ministry. They said Cabel and Marciano pacified him by releasing a statement that nothing had been decided regarding which portfolio would be given up.
Kadima officials said Monday they would prefer that Labor give up a more senior portfolio than Tourism, such as Education or National Infrastructures.
Another Labor minister threatened that if Labor’s central committee could meet to decide on giving up one portfolio, it could also decide to redistribute all of Labor’s portfolios. In such a scenario, the minister said, any central committee member could propose that Peretz become social affairs minister and that the Defense portfolio be given to someone with a security background, such as National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a former brigadier-general.
Other Labor officials accused Olmert of trying to sow discord in Labor. They said he ultimately wanted the Social Affairs portfolio to remain in Kadima for MK Marina Solodkin or Minister-without-Portfolio Ya’acov Edri. But Solodkin said she spoke to Olmert on Sunday and that he made no mention of a possible promotion.