In a dramatic ruling which could have serious ramifications for the current governing coalition, Israel's Supreme Court has ruled that United Torah Judaism (UTJ) MK Yaakov Litzman must be appointed as a full minister or be forced to vacate his post as Deputy Health Minister.
The UTJ party has traditionally not accepted ministerial positions for ideological reasons. Unlike the Sephardic-haredi Shas party, it does not consider itself "Zionist," although practically-speaking it takes part in the Israel political system, unlike its more extreme rivals such as the Eida Haredit organization, which shuns any political participation in the "secular" state.
As a result, when UTJ enters a coalition government it stipulates that its MKs should be appointed deputy ministers in ministries they are to control – but with no minister above them, rendering them "acting ministers."
The move is purely a technicality, but the chairman of the opposition Yesh Atid party, Yair Lapid, appealed to the Supreme Court over the practice, citing both the problematic elements of the practice in general, as well as taking aim at MK Litzman in particular.
"It can't be that the Health Ministry will be headed by a man who refuses to swear allegiance to the State of Israel, and who has no qualifications to manage this important portfolio," he said earlier this year.
A panel of five Supreme Court judges accepted the petition, but noted that "he can of course be appointed to the position of Health Minister in accordance with the law."
The UTJ party has yet to react to the ruling.