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New Israeli government to be sworn in/ Netanyahu’s legacy

Jun 12, 2021 | AIJAC staff

Israel's Knesset, or parliament, is set to convene on Sunday to vote in a new "Coalition of Change" government, made up of 8 parties, ousting long-serving PM Binyamin Netanyahu.  (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Israel's Knesset, or parliament, is set to convene on Sunday to vote in a new "Coalition of Change" government, made up of 8 parties, ousting long-serving PM Binyamin Netanyahu. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Update from AIJAC

 

06/21 #02

 

It now looks all but certain that a new eight party “coalition of change” government will be installed in Israel following a vote scheduled in the Knesset for Sunday – hopefully ending two years of political deadlock, including four inconclusive elections. This will also force long-serving Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu into opposition after 12 continuous years in power.

This Update looks at what will happen and the new government’s make up and agenda, and also explores the legacy of the “Netanyahu era” in Israeli politics.

We start with a factsheet summarising what will happen on Sunday and who will have what role in the new government from the Britain-Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM). This factsheet also looks at the important issue of what policy promises have been made between the various parties making up the government in the coalition agreements they have negotiated. Finally, it also reviews a controversy in Israel this week when the heads of two ultra-Orthodox parties launched a vituperative attack on both the new government and its incoming Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett. For all the basics you need to know about the new Israeli government,  CLICK HERE. More details on the exact sequence of events scheduled for Sunday are summarised by the Times of Israel. 

Next up is the editor of the Times of Israel David Horovitz expressing his hope that the new government can be one of national healing. He focuses especially on the extreme comments from ultra-Orthodox politicians noted above, and notes the mild response from Bennett, which Horovitz sees as an encouraging portent. He says that “Never in the history of this country have rightists, leftists, centrists and Arabs agreed to stake out common ground, together in government, in the cause of the greater Israeli good” and looks forward to a more harmonious era in Israeli politics. For his full argument, CLICK HERE.

Finally, we offer an article summarising the assessments of Israeli political experts on the long era of Israeli politics dominated by Netanyahu, as well as his historical legacy. The experts cite Netanyahu’s political talent, his pragmatic rather than ideological approach, and his numerous significant achievements for Israel, but also note his divisive and flawed personal style. For all the details of their valuable assessments of the Netanyahu era in Israeli politics, CLICK HERE.

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New government to be sworn in on Sunday

BICOM, 9th June 2021

 


The heads of the eight parties that will make up the new government (left to right, top then bottom): Naftali Bennett of Yamina; Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid; Benny Gantz of Blue and White; Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beitenu; Gideon Saar of New Hope; Merav Michaeli of Labor; Nitzan Horovitz of Meretz and Mansour Abbas of Ra’am

What happened: Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin confirmed yesterday that MKs will convene on Sunday, 13 June, to vote on the new government and swear in Naftali Bennett as the next prime minister of Israel.

  • Yamina MK Nir Orbach announced yesterday that he has decided to vote in favour of the new government. In a long Facebook post he explained, “I am not taking this path with happiness or enthusiasm, I am taking it precisely because it is unclear … an exemplary society can include rightists and leftists in one home. An exemplary society should shun marginal forces. In this exemplary society, religious Zionism … should have a central place.”
  • In a direct critique of the Religious Zionist Party, Orbach added: “Unfortunately, the political religious Zionism from which I came, which knew how to cooperate with both right and left, is no longer. It has been appropriated by forces that don’t represent me or the community I came from.”
  • Orbach’s confirmation assures the incoming government a slender 61-59 seat majority.
  • In response, head of the Religious Zionist Party Bezalel Smotrich wrote on twitter, “I wanted to write that he’s a nobody. But he’s so arrogant, insolent, untruthful and power-seeking that he would come over to us immediately had we offered him a reserved spot.”
  • Yesterday also saw unprecedentedly harsh criticism from the leaders of the ultra-Orthodox parties who will join the opposition after Sunday’s vote. In a joint press conference, Shas leader Aryeh Deri warned: “The Jewish state is in danger. The State of Israel is changing its appearance and identity. The government headed by Bennett will destroy and ruin everything that we have preserved of the Jewish character and identity of the country, which enables life together over the last 73 years together.”
  • United Torah Judaism’s (UTJ) Yaakov Litzman said Israel’s “entire Jewish character is in danger. Jewish tradition, values and religion, the pillars of Judaism have been thrown in the garbage. Conversion, yeshiva students, the Torah world, the holy Sabbath, the Western Wall, recognising Reform Jews … everything is going to haters of religion, Lieberman, Bennett and Lapid.”
  • While Moshe Gafni (also UTJ) called Bennett “a wicked person who is an embarrassment to the kippa”.
  • Designated Prime Minister Naftali Bennett responded saying: “I was very sorry to hear the harsh expressions used by MKs Gafni, Deri and Litzman. These are expressions that do not add respect to them and reflect a loss of temper. Only a year ago, when the current unity government was formed, the right remained outside, and the ultra-Orthodox sat inside. You did not see me calling Gafni to remove his yamulkah. There was a government, we were not part of it, and the sun was shining in the morning. The ultra-Orthodox Knesset members will not teach us what Judaism is and certainly not what Zionism is.”


New PM Naftali Bennett: Restrained response to very vituperative comments from ultra-Orthodox politicians (Photo: David Cohen 156 / Shutterstock.com)

  • He also sought to reassure the general ultra-Orthodox population by saying, “You have nothing to worry about. On the contrary, the past year has shown that you are the ones paying, with your very life, for a political culture of neglect, preference for associates and perpetuation of problems.”

Context: This will be the first government in 12 years that is not led by Benjamin Netanyahu, who is expected to become Leader of the Opposition.

  • By law a new government needs to present their guidelines and coalition agreements 24 hours before the vote, but due to the Sabbath, they will do this on Friday. In the meantime, more details have emerged about the coalition agreements:
    • The new government will be based on a parity agreement between Bennett and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, with both having veto power.
    • Gideon Saar and Benny Gantz will serve as deputy prime minister, and the security cabinet will be comprised of 12 members, six from each side.
    • United Arab List leader MK Mansour Abbas will be appointed a deputy minister and will be given a budget of NIS 0.5 billion (£109m) to use at his own discretion to invest in Arab communities.
    • The new government intends to immediately introduce legislation that would limit the tenure of a prime minister to either two terms or eight years (the longer between the two).
    • The new government intends to draft and approve a state budget quickly upon its establishment.
    • It also intends to draft and to pass into legislation Basic Law: Legislation and a military draft law.
    • It is also expected to establish a state commission of inquiry to investigate the Mt. Meron disaster, where 45 people were crushed to death during Lag B’omer celebrations at the end of April.

Looking ahead: The 36th government of Israel will be sworn in on Sunday at 4pm local time.

  • Ahead of the swearing-in, the Knesset will elect a new Speaker to replace Levin, with Mickey Levy from Yesh Atid expected to take over.
  • The ceremony will begin with an address by the new Prime Minister, followed by incoming Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid. It is customary for the new leader of the opposition to then speak.
  • The ceremony will be completed with the commemorative photo of the faction leaders alongside President Rivlin.

After Netanyahu, a chance for a government of national healing

Never before in Israel’s history have rightists, leftists, centrists and Arabs agreed to stake out common ground, together in government, in the cause of the greater good

By DAVID HOROVITZ 

Times of Israel, 10 June 2021


Aryeh Deri of the Shas party, Moshe Gafni of United Torah Judaism (UTJ), and Yaakov Litzman also of UTJ (l to r): Responsible for extreme denunciations of the new government in general and Bennett in particular at a press conference on Tuesday. 

The leaders of Israel’s two ultra-Orthodox parties held a quite staggering press conference on Tuesday, at which they denounced the “change government” and especially its Prime Minister-designate Naftali Bennett.

It was staggering in the vitriol they heaped upon Bennett, who is set to become Israel’s first Orthodox prime minister, and staggering in the arrogance with which they asserted that theirs is the only legitimate approach to halachic Judaism and that the “Jewish state” is imperiled by their imminent exclusion from government.

Bennett and his colleagues will “destroy Shabbat, conversion, the Chief Rabbinate, kashrut and will tear the people of Israel asunder,” thundered Shas leader Aryeh Deri.

“He should take off his kippa,” raged United Torah Judaism’s Yaakov Litzman.

“The names of the wicked shall rot,” proclaimed UTJ leader Moshe Gafni.

Bennett, in response, was mild and rather sorrowful: “These are comments that do not gain them any respect, and reflect a loss of control,” he said. “Only a year ago, when the current unity government was formed, Yamina was left out and the Haredim were in. You did not see me calling on Gafni to take off his kippa. There was a government, we were not part of it, and the sun still rose in the morning.”

“The ultra-Orthodox MKs will not teach us what Judaism is, and certainly not what Zionism is,” Bennett chided.

What Bennett accurately described as the Haredi MKs’ “hysterical outburst” underlined their conviction that for all Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ongoing efforts to win over the single defector he would need to block the 61-strong coalition, Sunday afternoon will see the end of Netanyahu’s unprecedented 12-year hold on power. Netanyahu certainly hasn’t given up, but his ultra-loyal ultra-Orthodox allies have evidently concluded that it’s over.

If so, Bennett’s unfazed response to the vicious assault mounted against him by his erstwhile Shas and UTJ coalition colleagues marks an encouraging portent on the road ahead. “As prime minister, I will take care of ultra-Orthodox society and the world of Torah,” he promised, maintaining the generally conciliatory tone that has marked the assembly of his and Yair Lapid’s wildly diverse eight-party coalition.

While Netanyahu rails incessantly and falsely about stolen votes, peddles “deep state” conspiracy theories, and demonizes this “left-wing” government, Bennett, Yesh Atid’s Lapid and other members of this extraordinary alliance of right, center, left and Arab parties have tended to focus on the good that they intend to try to do — the process of national healing they aim to initiate.

In an Army Radio interview Wednesday morning, Yamina’s Matan Kahana, an Orthodox ex-fighter pilot who also served in the IDF’s elite General Staff Reconnaissance Unit (Sayeret Matkal), rejoiced in his imminent appointment as Minister for Religious Services — saying it was the only position he wanted. He pledged to maintain the broad “status quo” that governs issues of religion and state, but also to fix abuses and introduce urgent reforms.


New Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana: Promising to maintain the religious status quo while fixing abuses  (Photo: Wikimedia Commons | License details) . 

For a start, he said, with the common sense that has eluded Shas and UTJ these past six weeks, he will insist on a state commission of inquiry into the April 30 Mount Meron disaster in which 45 men and boys, overwhelmingly from the ultra-Orthodox community, were killed in a horrific crush. How else, he asked, would he be able, as the minister responsible, to ensure it didn’t recur?

Reminded that he would be taking over a Shas-run ministry whose staff could be relied upon to resist changes, Kahana said warmly that he knew he would have a lot to learn from the ministry’s civil servants. And he stressed that matters in the field of religion and state “that haven’t been solved for 73 years probably won’t be solved in the next government.”

Generally, said Kahana, echoing comments Bennett has made more than once in the past few days, every member of the incoming coalition “knows that they probably cannot realize their full agendas, and they know that if they start attacking each other, the government won’t survive.” The partners “are coming with a lot of goodwill.”

While the ultra-Orthodox political apparatchiks have declared religious war on it, many key members of the “change government” have set it up with an almost Messianic vision of internal Israeli right-left, Orthodox-secular, Jewish-Arab harmony

Never in the history of this country have rightists, leftists, centrists and Arabs agreed to stake out common ground, together in government, in the cause of the greater Israeli good. While the ultra-Orthodox political apparatchiks have declared religious war on it, many key members of the “change government” have set it up with an almost messianic vision of internal Israeli right-left, Orthodox-secular, Jewish-Arab harmony. (Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman is a particularly stark exception.) However hard this will prove to maintain, the very goal marks a laudable departure from Netanyahu’s divisive approach to retaining power.

First, though, the “change government” needs to win Knesset approval, in a vote set for Sunday afternoon. It is worth recalling Shimon Peres’s rude discovery, in the course of just such a vote in 1990, that he didn’t have all his coalition ducks lined up after all.

The new coalition promises a new, more harmonious era in Israeli politics, but all its good intentions won’t matter a whit unless or until those 61 MKs’ votes are cast, counted and confirmed.


A look at Netanyahu’s legacy as curtains close on an era – opinion

 

A political maverick and a strong-willed nationalist, Netanyahu is poised to leave office in the coming days in what can be seen as a grating end to a remarkable term.

 

By KEREN SETTON/ THE MEDIA LINE 

Jerusalem Post, June 8, 2021


Incumbent Israeli PM Netanyahu is headed for the Opposition – which is sparking much debate about his legacy as Israel’s longest serving PM (Photo: Flickr | License details

For many Israelis, it is difficult to imagine the political scene without the hovering presence of Benjamin Netanyahu. He entered the public arena in the mid-1980s as Israel’s representative to the United Nations and has since remained in the public eye. His last stretch as prime minister since 2009 has made him the country’s longest-serving premier.

A political maverick and a strong-willed nationalist, he is poised to leave office in the coming days in what can be seen as a grating end to a remarkable term. His last years at the official residence at Balfour Street in Jerusalem have been marred by scandal. On trial for charges of corruption, Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing. His staunch supporters follow him faithfully, while his opponents see the allegations as clouding his judgment, making him unfit for office.

Being a political mastermind was not enough this time. After four unprecedented consecutive elections, a group of political parties managed to agree on forming a coalition that will see Netanyahu vacate his seat.

But even before his judicial woes, he became one of Israel’s most divisive political figures.

“Netanyahu is an exceptionally talented man,” said political analyst Avraham Diskin, “But when leaders lead for so long, the public gets tired. He managed to acquire many enemies throughout the years.”

“The fact that he has been in power for 12 years and leads a right-wing party makes the left and center-left try to oust him by delegitimizing him,” said Arieh Eldad, a former right-wing Israeli politician. “During the years, he also lost the support of the ideological right … and this enables replacing him, regardless of the criminal proceedings.”

“The ideological right cannot forgive him for the very moves that kept him in office,” said Eldad.

“Netanyahu believes in being strong, not necessarily being right, and this was cultivated by him as a critical mindset in the Middle East,” said Dr. Alon Liel, a former senior diplomat who worked under Netanyahu for many years. “This benefited him personally, but also Israel became strong – and its military, technological, economic strength, strengthened Israel in the international arena as well.”

On the issue of Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, Netanyahu has a record of inconsistency. He voted several times for Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005 until finally resigning in opposition to it. In 2009, after years of opposing the two-state solution, he reversed his position in a pivotal speech at Bar-Ilan University, endorsing the idea of a Palestinian state. During the years of tension with the Obama administration, he avoided massive settlement construction, keeping him from direct conflict with the White House and helping maintain a rocky coalition with former prime minister and senior partner Ehud Barak.All his moves guaranteed his political survival at the expense of a clear-cut ideology.

“His success in surviving by being a pragmatist and not an ideologist, in the end brought anger from both the right and the left,” said Eldad.

Many on the right have held the Bar-Ilan speech against Netanyahu.

“The speech showed his pragmatism,” said Diskin, “He never really retracted it. This shows his recognition for the need and for the option of a two-state solution.”

As the years in office progressed, Netanyahu and the Israeli public gradually shifted further right.

“When he felt enough political power, he renounced any notion of the Bar-Ilan speech and abandoned the two-state solution,” said Liel.

During the Netanyahu years, the peace process with the Palestinians was deserted. But this was not his work alone. Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas both proved to be reluctant to sit at the negotiating table and the split between Fatah and Hamas made peace-talking almost impossible.“He leaves office with the Palestinian problem unsolved but in a controlled equilibrium,” said Diskin.


Israeli political scientist Dr. Avraham Diskin: “With so many extreme emotions about him on all sides, it is too soon to tell how the history books will judge” Netanyahu (Photo:  Wikimedia Commons | License details)

Throughout his term, Netanyahu singled out the Iranian nuclear program as his legacy issue. Sidelining the Palestinian matter, he focused on undermining Iranian nuclear aspirations both by campaigning on the international stage and by ordering operations, most of them covert, against Iran. While not the first to recognize the threat, Netanyahu’s long term in office has enabled him to persist, often at the cost of tiring his many audiences. Highlighting what some may say is his obsession, in 2015 Netanyahu addressed the American Congress, blindsiding then US President Obama. Internationally, Netanyahu’s stubborn approach was sometimes frowned upon.

“It was harmful to the relations with many world leaders,” said Diskin, “Even though it was detrimental to the relationship with Obama, Israel still received massive military aid from the administration.”

During the honeymoon years of Netanyahu and President Donald Trump, the Americans withdrew from the deal. But this was not necessarily enough to block Iran. It became increasingly evident that tackling the Iranian issue is not only up to the Israeli leader. When Russia, China and the European Union supported a softer approach towards Tehran, Netanyahu faced the limitations of his clout.

“He meant well, he acted correctly, he managed to strike the Iranians,” said Eldad, “But as he leaves office, Iran is no less dangerous than it was before and we are approaching a nuclear Iran in the near future.”

Regardless of whether Iran attains nuclear capabilities, he leaves his successor with Israel as a regional superpower. Years of Israeli operations throughout the Middle East have consolidated that position.

“He reached a position in which Israel can strike anywhere in the region without raising any objection in the world,” said Dr. Liel. “He achieved Israeli control of the skies and this undoubtedly harmed Iran and its aspirations to surround Israel with hostile borders. He leaves a strong, independent Israel, by operating very wisely in the international arena.”

In the coming days, a new Israeli government is slated to be sworn in. Netanyahu will leave the official residence despite wanting to stay there.

“Netanyahu cultivated an image in the public that there is only one Netanyahu and that is as prime minister,” said Eldad, “Therefore, he leaves office as a loser, against his will.”

“He leaves because of personal flaws, not because he failed to run the country,” said Liel.

The manner of his departure and the outcome of his court case will likely have an impact on his legacy.

“With so many extreme emotions about him on all sides, it is too soon to tell how the history books will judge him,” Diskin summarized.

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