Headlines in the United States and Israel – and probably the rest of the world – are highlighting the possibility that the government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may finally fall. It is obviously news because Netanyahu has led Israel for the last 12 years. But on June 2, opposition leader Yair Lapid told President Reuven Rivlin that he is able to put together a unity government, composed of eight parties, to replace the longest-serving Israeli prime minister.
Under those headlines, however, are blaring caveats. “The new government will not be sworn in for at least one more week, providing what amounts to a lifetime in Israeli politics for Netanyahu to pressure the right-wing members of this new coalition to defect and to wreak havoc however he can, so this is not yet a done deal,” warned Michael Koplow, policy director for the Washington, D.C.-based Israel Policy Forum. “He is being replaced by a coalition that is unified only in its conviction that Netanyahu must go.”
Before a new government can be sworn in, a majority of the 120-member Knesset, Israel’s parliament, must vote in its favor. That vote is unlikely for at least a week.
That hasn’t stopped American Jewish organizations from praising the leaders of the proposed government, who have agreed to take turns being prime minister. “AIPAC congratulates Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett for assembling a broad and diverse coalition – spanning the political spectrum of Zionist and Arab parties – to form an Israeli government pending Knesset approval,” according to a statement released by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
“The formation of this government just two weeks after Iranian-backed terrorists fired more than 4,300 rockets at innocent Israeli civilians further demonstrates the resilience of Israel’s democracy and its commitment to democratic values,” the statement continued.
Indeed, the purported new coalition will not only include, for the first time, an Israeli Arab party, but it will also comprise the largest number of female ministers. Among the eight parties will be those that are right-wing, center and left-wing.
As the first of the rotating prime ministers, Bennett will be the country’s lone religiously observant, kippah-wearing leader. As head of the seven-member Yamina party, Bennett will be the first leader of the smallest party to ever be appointed prime minister, according to The Times of Israel. In contrast, the other rotating prime minister, Lapid – scheduled to take the position about two years into the new government term – heads a 17-member party.
Netanyahu is leader of Likud, the largest party coming out of the March elections with 30 members, but was unable to cobble together a coalition.
Netanyahu has served as a caretaker leader for much of the past two years as citizens participated in four inconclusive elections until now.
After so many years led by one prime minister, Israel supporters around the world will need an introduction to the next prime minister – if the Knesset approves the new government.
Bennett is the son of American immigrants from San Francisco. After serving in the Israel Defense Forces, he lived in the United States while he led a technology company, which he then sold, making millions. He returned to Israel to enter politics, eventually serving as education minister and defense minister. Although he lives in Ra’anana near Tel Aviv, he led a settler organization and is known for his support of annexing much of the West Bank and his opposition to a Palestinian state.
His biggest challenge as the next prime minister will be keeping his unity government together. According to Israeli press reports, the new government will likely avoid any controversial issues like those involving the Palestinians. Instead, the government will focus on internal concerns such as passing a national budget for the first time in more than two years and rebuilding the country’s infrastructure as well as the economy after the devastating pandemic last year.
However, since it will be the first government since 2015 without the inclusion of an ultra-Orthodox party, it may make headway on issues that concern the majority of American Jews. Israeli newspaper Haaretz suggests that a deal to provide the Conservative and Reform movements with improved prayer space at the Western Wall for egalitarian services could finally be implemented.
According to the deal approved by an earlier Netanyahu government canceled in 2017 due to the ultra-Orthodox parties, there would be equal visibility and accessibility to the existing gender-segregated Orthodox areas. This agreement had been widely supported by the non-Orthodox movements in the U.S., as well as by Bennett, who was minister of diaspora affairs at the time.
According to Atlantan Mitchell Kaye, the possibility of a government without Netanyahu is due more to “Bibi-fatigue,” referring to the prime minister’s nickname, rather than his policies. “The electorate has moved rightward over the past decade,” he wrote in an email to the AJT. “Despite his flaws, he has been a great leader for Israel in providing security, a booming economy and in public alliances with many Arab countries,” added Kaye, who served five terms in the Georgia House of Representatives.
Kaye couldn’t resist observing the irony of the political situation in Israel. “The leader of a party that got only seven seats is going to be the next prime minister, while the leader of the party that got more than four times the seats and the most at 30, will be in the opposition. Israeli politics;… man plans and G-d laughs!”
- Jan Jaben-Eilon
- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyah
- yair lapid
- President Reuven Rivlin
- Michael Koplow
- Israel Policy Forum
- naftali bennett
- American Israel Public Affairs Committee
- Yamina party
- The Times of Israel
- Israel Defense Forces
- Mitchell Kaye
- Georgia House of Representatives