Mon Jan 29, 2:58 PM ET
Israel's first Muslim cabinet minister was sworn in by parliament on Monday after a weeks-long battle over his nomination that drew fire from far-right parties as well as Arab lawmakers.
The parliamentary confirmation was expected after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's cabinet voted on Sunday to make Galeb Magadla of Israel's Labour party a minister without portfolio.
"I am certain that minister Galeb Magadla will be a place to turn to help deal with the gaps between the Arab and Jewish sectors," said Defense Minister and Labour party leader Amir Peretz.
Arabs make up about 20 percent of Israel's population and have long complained of being treated like second-class citizens and about a paucity of government funds for their towns and villages.
"The first step has been taken and this has given Israeli Arabs a feeling of belonging," Magadla told Army Radio on Sunday.
But several Muslim lawmakers spoke out against his nomination, saying Magadla would only represent his party's ideology and not the entire Arab population.
Others said he was joining a government that was not interested in making peace with its Arab neighbors.
Israeli officials have denied any policy of discrimination against the country's Arab citizens, saying they enjoyed more political freedom in Israel than in anywhere in the Muslim world and had a strong representation in parliament.
Magadla was nominated by the Labour Party for a ministerial post after one of its members quit the cabinet in protest at the addition of the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu faction to Olmert's coalition government in October.
Israeli media said Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beitenu was the only cabinet member to vote against the appointment.
In 2001, an Israeli Druze became the first non-Jewish member of the cabinet, serving as a minister without portfolio.
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