YIR: Meet Israel’s New Prime Minister
Year in ReviewIsrael

YIR: Meet Israel’s New Prime Minister

June 2021: A new Israeli government without Netanyahu.

Naftali Bennett replaced longtime prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Naftali Bennett replaced longtime prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

After four elections, beginning in April 2019 and ending in March 2021, a new Israeli government coalition was formed without Benjamin Netanyahu – the longest-serving prime minister in the country’s history. He had led the government for more than 12 consecutive years.

But Netanyahu was unable to cobble together a majority government despite his party, Likud, taking 30 of the 120 seats in the Israeli legislature, or Knesset.

In June, the 36th government of Israel was sworn in with Naftali Bennett becoming Israel’s 13th prime minister and Yair Lapid serving as alternate prime minister, as well as foreign minister. Lapid is scheduled to take the top position in August 2023.

As the first of the rotating prime ministers, Bennett is the country’s lone religiously observant, kippa-wearing leader. As head of the seven-member Yamina Party, Bennett is also leader of the smallest party to ever be appointed prime minister. In contrast, Lapid heads a 17-member party.

(L to R) Israel’s outgoing prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with his successor, incoming Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, after a special session to vote on a new government at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 13, 2021. – A delicate eight-party alliance united by animosity for Netanyahu is poised to take over with right-wing Naftali Bennett as prime minister, if the coalition deal passes today’s slated parliamentary vote. (Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)

The new government is a coalition of eight parties ranging from the right-wing to left-wing, and will include, for the first time, an Israeli Arab party. It also is comprised of the largest number of female ministers. This is the first government since 2015 without the inclusion of an ultra-Orthodox party.

Political pundits predicted that the new government wouldn’t survive the year, with the passing of a national budget expected to bring down the young government in the fall. Under Bennett, however, the Knesset passed the first national budget in more than two years, assuring this government’s viability – at least for now.

Other issues continue to test the government’s long-term survival. According to coalition agreements, controversial issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be avoided. Without an ultra-Orthodox party partner, however, religious concerns such as kashrut laws, control of conversion and a potential agreement to provide the Conservative and Reform movements with improved prayer space at the Western Wall for egalitarian services could finally be implemented.

Recently, though, coalition members have been at odds about whether to reinstate a deal that had been approved by an earlier Netanyahu government but was canceled in 2017 due to the ultra-Orthodox parties. Under that agreement, there was to be equal visibility and accessibility to the existing gender-segregated Orthodox areas.

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