Israel swore in a new government on Sunday, ending the 12-year rule of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and making Naftali Bennett, the head of a small, religious ultranationalist party, the new leader of the Jewish state.
Bennett will be prime minister for two years under an unlikely power-sharing agreement among eight political parties with little in common other than wanting to end the tumultuous tenure of Netanyahu. Bennett is a former Netanyahu ally who served as his defense minister in 2019 and 2020.
Then, Bennett, 49, will be replaced for two years by Yair Lapid, 57, a one-time finance minister and former TV news anchor who brokered the deal to oust Netanyahu.
Lapid won the second-biggest vote total behind Netanyahu’s Likud party last March, the fourth indecisive Israeli election in the last two years.
Netanyahu, who attempted to thwart the eight-party coalition that ousted him, will remain as the opposition leader, but also is on trial on corruption charges.
Bennett’s ascension to power was marked by rancor in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, as outgoing conservative lawmakers shouted “shame” and “liar.” Several lawmakers were ejected from the session.
“We are incapable of sitting together — what is happening to us?” Bennett said amid booing and taunts, even as his children flashed him heart symbols from the visitors’ gallery.
“I am proud of sitting with people … who have very different opinions,” he said. “We have decided to take responsibility.”
Lapid apologized to his 86-year-old mother for the heckling.
“I assumed you would be able to get over yourselves,” Lapid told his fellow lawmakers. “Instead, she and every other Israeli citizen is ashamed of you and reminded why it’s time for you to be replaced.”
U.S. President Joe Biden congratulated the new Israeli leaders and said he looks forward to strengthening “all aspects of the close and enduring relationship between our two nations.”
“The United States remains unwavering in its support for Israel’s security,” Biden said from Europe. “My administration is fully committed to working with the new Israeli government to advance security, stability, and peace for Israelis, Palestinians, and people throughout the broader region.”
Biden spoke with the new Israeli leader shortly after the announcement Sunday, expressing “his firm intent to deepen cooperation between the United States and Israel on the many challenges and opportunities facing the region,” according to a readout from the White House.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also congratulated Bennett on his new position.
“Together, let’s explore ways to further strengthen the relationship between Canada and Israel,” he wrote on Twitter.
Congratulations on the formation of a new Israeli government, Prime Minister @NaftaliBennett and Alternate Prime Minister @YairLapid. Together, let’s explore ways to further strengthen the relationship between Canada and Israel. https://t.co/Rcw2UDXpBk
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) June 13, 2021
The new governing coalition marks the first time that an Arab party, the Islamist Ra’am party, has joined the Israeli governing coalition. It is seeking new spending programs for Arabs in Israel, who account for about 20% of its population
Also, for the first time since 1977, with two short exceptions, the ultra-Orthodox parties will not be part of the government. They formed a strong foundation for Netanyahu’s governments, and their absence could thwart the influence of ultra-Orthodox rabbis on religious and family law and the Orthodox Jewish community’s exemption from compulsory military service.
Netanyahu oversaw a nearly two-week-long air war with Hamas in Gaza last month in his last significant role as the Israeli leader. It was speculated within Israel that the fight against Hamas, viewed by the U.S. as a terrorist organization, could derail attempts to oust him. The opposition parties, however, resumed negotiations to form an anti-Netanyahu alliance shortly after a May 21 cease-fire.
Bennett’s takeover could shift the government toward the political center, with the coalition of governing parties holding a mix of views from the left, center and right.
Netanyahu’s Likud party won the most seats in the 120-member parliament in all four rounds of voting, but never was able to collect the 61 votes to form a government.
He has vowed opposition to the new governing coalition and analysts say it could collapse if one of the eight parties bolts on any key issue. (VOA)
•PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett