Israel’s New Government Is Diverse, Mixed and Unstable
Challenging assortment of parties and ministers could be hit or miss as it attempts to be a ‘government for everyone’
Israel’s new government wasted no time getting to work Monday morning, hours after it was sworn in following a historic and highly contentious confidence vote.
Members of the new coalition, headed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, assumed their new roles, holding traditional exchange ceremonies at various government ministries and offices.
The former prime minister and current opposition chair, Binyamin Netanyahu, refused to attend the traditional farewell ceremony at the prime minister’s office, breaking with decades-old practice.
Netanyahu’s transition meeting with Bennett on Monday lasted all of 30 minutes.
After 12 straight years of Netanyahu’s reign, which saw one ruling party – the Likud – retain its grip on government almost unchallenged, Israelis may need some time to adapt to the fresh faces manning central portfolios, ministries and agencies.
Bennett, who shocked the nation by becoming prime minister with only six seats in the Knesset and after being voted out of the parliament just last year, will rotate out of office in two years, to be replaced by Lapid.
Bennett will then serve as minister of the interior, replacing his party member and close ally Ayelet Shaked, who will become justice minister for the remaining two years.
Gideon Sa’ar, who heads the New Hope party, will be Israel’s justice minister for the coming two years, and later will replace Lapid when the latter moves to the top job.
Israel’s defense minister for the past year, Blue and White party head Benny Gantz, will retain his position for the duration of the new government. Gantz was intended to replace Netanyahu as prime minister in November 2021, but the former premier reneged on their rotation pact and plunged the country into its fourth elections in March, leading to his ultimate undoing.
The average age of a minister in the incoming government will be 53, with the oldest – Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai – age 74, and the youngest – Social Equality Minister Meirav Cohen – age 37.
The Bennett-Lapid patchwork coalition will consist of a wide array of small- to medium-sized parties, ranging along Israel’s entire ideological spectrum.
Bennett and Sa’ar head far-right and right-wing lists, respectively, while Gantz and Avigdor Liberman – the new finance minister – lead centrist parties. Lapid’s Yesh Atid is the largest party in the complex coalition with 17 seats, and leads the alliance’s left-wing bloc, flanked by the more progressive Labor and Meretz parties.
To top it all off, the government will for the first time in Israel’s history include an independent Islamic party, Ra’am-United Arab List.
“There is a fundamental shift in the Arab society in Israel, and Ra’am’s collaboration with a Zionist government is just the latest example,” Dr. Thabet Abu Rass, co-executive director of The Abraham Initiatives organization, told The Media Line.
“Israeli Arabs want to participate as equals in the political process. It’s not just about being allocated the budgets they need, it’s integration in the deepest sense, while maintaining their identity as an Arab minority,” Rass said.
“Even if this gamble by Ra’am fails and the government dismantles in a few months, I believe it was still a good wager,” he said.
Another milestone reached by the incoming unity government is the unprecedently high number of women serving as government ministers. Nine of the 27 cabinet members are women, including interior, education, energy, environmental protection, labor and transportation.
Dana Meitav, executive director of the Israel Women’s Network, said that while the record number of women ministers is encouraging, it should be only the beginning.
“[It] will undoubtedly have a big influence on shaping policy and reducing inequality … but women are more than half of the population, not a minority,” she told The Media Line.
“There is also the matter of other senior executive positions in government ministries. Even though they represent a majority of the employees in many government offices, there are way too few women in senior positions. The outgoing administration appointed only three women director generals,” she said.
Meitav said her group sent a letter on Sunday to the new ministers, urging them to consider the much-needed change.
“We’re glad about the refreshing air this “change government” has brought about [regarding women ministers], but if it’s going to prove itself, the change must start from within government offices appointments,” she added.
Israeli Arabs want to participate as equals in the political process. It’s not just about being allocated the budgets they need, it’s integration in the deepest sense, while maintaining their identity as an Arab minority
When he took his oath on the parliament floor Sunday night, Bennett represented another major first, becoming the first religiously observant prime minister in Israeli history, sporting a yarmulke.
Still, the hodgepodge coalition is sharply criticized by its opponents for allegedly shunning vast Israeli demographics, including the ultra-Orthodox, Mizrahi Jews and lower socio-economic classes, all identified almost exclusively as voters of Netanyahu and his religious and conservative colleagues.
“We will be a government for everyone, we will take care of all Israelis, including those who did not vote for us,” Bennett vowed Sunday evening in his maiden address before taking the oath.
Whether he and his coalition partners can deliver now remains to be seen.