Netanyahu appoints the first openly gay minister

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: PTI

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday (June 5) appointed Amir Ohana as acting Justice minister, the first openly gay minister in the country’s history.

The appointment of Ohana, from Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, comes as Jerusalem prepares for its annual Gay Pride celebrations on Thursday. “Amir Ohana is a jurist who knows the legal system well,” the premier’s office said in a statement.

This comes at a time when thousands of people are expected to converge on Jerusalem  for its “march of pride and tolerance” to support the rights the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community this Thursday, amid tight security.

He takes up the position from Netanyahu’s right-wing rival Ayelet Shaked, fired by the premier on Sunday along with education minister Naftali Bennett after the prime minister failed to form a government following April elections. In 2015, a 16-year-old demonstrator  was stabbed to death by an ultra-orthodox Jew during the march.

Israel has presented itself as a pioneer in LGBT rights in the region, but homosexuality is deeply rejected by conservative religious parties. Netanyahu is likely to need in their support in order to form his next government. They have been accused for trying hard to restore a liberal image which has been tarnished because of its occupation of Palestinian territories.

This is also they reason why Netanyahu failed to form a coalition. The former secular right-wing Defence Minister refused to back down on demands for legislation which forced religious Jews to serve in the army along with Isrelis.

Netanyahu had opted for the parliament to dissolve itself and approve new elections. This  preventing Israeli President Reuven Rivlin from selecting someone else to form a government. Shaked and Bennett had left the Likud years earlier, but their New Right party failed to win enough votes in April’s poll. Israeli ministers remain in their posts, until the formation of the next administration.But Netanyahu’s office confirmed their sackings at the weekend.

The Justice ministry Betzalel Smotrich, of the religious far-right alliance United Right, said the country should be run according to biblical laws, sparking outrage among secular Israelis. Netanyahu responded by saying, “the state of Israel will not be a halakha state”, referring to Jewish law.