New Israeli Government Sworn In


What happened: Israel’s 37th government was sworn in yesterday, almost two months after the November 1st election.

  • The government will be led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who returns to rule the country for the third time (and heads his sixth government).
  • Netanyahu said his government’s top priorities would be:
    • To prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
    • To restore security and governance.
    • To deal with the cost of living and housing problems.
    • To expand the circle of peace (a reference to implementing further accords with Arab states following the Abraham Accords).
  • Similar to when Naftali Bennet became prime minister (and Netanyahu lost) 18 months ago, there was no formal handover ceremony with the outgoing prime minister, Yair Lapid. Instead, he and Netanyahu held a handover meeting.
  • In an unprecedented move the Attorney General Baharav-Miara was not invited to the first cabinet meeting that was held after the swearing in. However, Netanyahu plans to meet her on Sunday.
  • Also yesterday, the Knesset elected a new speaker- Likud MK Amir Ohana. He becomes the Knesset’s first openly gay speaker.

The new cabinet: Overall there will be 31 government ministers, of which five are women.

  • Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, Likud
  • Minister of Defence, Yoav Gallant, Likud. A former IDF Maj. Gen.
  • Minister of Foreign Affairs*, Eli Cohen, Likud. Originally entered the Knesset with the Kulanu Party.
  • Minister of Finance, Betzalel Smotrich, Religious Zionists. Will also have responsibility for West Bank Civil Administration.
  • Minister of Justice, Yariv Levin, Likud. Expected to lead on judicial reform.
  • Minister of Interior minister & Health minister, Aryeh Deri, Shas. Will rotate and become finance minister in two years.
  • Minister of Education, Yoav Kish, Likud. Grandson of Brig. Frederick Kish, highest ranking Jew in the British Army during World War II.
  • Minister of Transportation, Miri Regev, Likud. Returns to her former role.
  • Minister for Housing and Construction, Yitzhak Goldknopf, United Torah Judaism. New leader of his party, first time in the Knesset.
  • Minister for National Security, Itamar Ben Gvir, Jewish Power. Formerly public security, now with expanded remit.
  • Minister for Environmental Protection, Idit Silman, Likud. Former Yamina rebel.
  • Minister of Energy*, Israel Katz, Likud. Former finance and foreign minister.
  • Minister of Communications, Shlomo Karhi, Likud. First ministerial post.
  • Minister for Economy and Industry, Nir Barkat, Likud. Former mayor of Jerusalem.
  • Minister of Welfare, Yaakov Margi, Shas. Former minister for religious services
  • Minister of Tourism, Haim Katz, Likud. Was under criminal investigation, received suspended sentence with plea bargain.
  • Minister for Innovation, Science and Technology, Ofir Akunis, Likud. Returns to previous portfolio.
  • Minister of Agriculture, Avi Dichter, Likud. Former public security minister and head of Shin Bet security service.
  • Minister for Diaspora affairs and Social Equality, Amichai Chikli, Likud. Declared a renegade Yamina MK, before joining Likud.
  • Minister for Culture and Sports, Miki Zohar, Likud. Former Chief Whip.
  • Minister for Intelligence, Gila Gamliel, Likud. One of few Likud MKs to have endorsed two state solution.
  • Minister for Strategic Affairs, Ron Dermer. The only minister not an MK, long term confidant of Netanyahu, and former Ambassador to US.
  • Minister for Religious Affairs, Michael Malchieli, Shas. Former Jerusalem Councillor.
  • Minister for National Missions, Orit Strock, Religious Zionists. This is a new ministry, with responsibility over West Bank settlements, national service, and pre-military academies.
  • Minister for Immigration and Absorption, Ofir Sofer, Religious Zionists. Disabled IDF veteran.
  • Minister for Jerusalem and Tradition, Meir Porush, United Torah Judaism. Rebranded from the Jerusalem and Heritage ministry.
  • Minister for the development of the Negev and the Galilee, Yitzhak Wasserlauf, Jewish Power. First time MK, youngest minister aged 30.
  • Minister of Heritage, Amichai Eliyahu, Jewish Power. First time MK, grandson of former Sephardic chief rabbi.
  • Minister within the Prime Minister’s Office, Galit Distel Atbaryan, Likud. Novelist, originally given reserved slot on Likud list by Netanyahu.
  • Minister within the Education Ministry, Haim Biton, Shas. Former head of Shas schools network.
  • Minister within the Welfare Ministry, Yoav Ben-Tzur, Shas. Holds a master’s degree from the University of Manchester.

(*will rotate after a year, then rotate back in third year)

Context: Netanyahu previously served as prime minister from 1996-99 and again from 2009-21- a total of 15 years, already making him the country’s longest serving prime minister.

  • Despite its homogeneous makeup, the government needed the full time allocation (and an extension) to be formed. This was chiefly due to the coalition partners’ insistence on passing significant pieces of legislation before the government was sworn in. These included:
    • An amendment to Basic Law: Government. It now states that an offence for which an individual was given a suspended prison sentence will not be considered to bear moral turpitude. The distinction between a custodial and suspended sentence allows Aryeh Deri to serve as a minister.
    • The second part of the amendment will now allow Smotrich to simultaneously serve as finance minister and a minister in the defence ministry. As such, he will be given authority over the Civil Administration and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.
    • Ben Gvir will receive expanded powers over the Israel Police. The newly named national security minister will set police policy priorities and work plans.
    • A law was also passed limiting the ability of four rebel MKs to break away and form a separate faction. The law reverts to the previous situation, requiring a third of a party’s MKs to split for a separate faction to be recognised. This tweak was aimed at preventing disgruntled Likud MKs from rebelling.
  • Some have interpreted the necessity to pass these laws as a sign of lack of trust in Netanyahu among his partners.
  • With centrist parties refusing to sit with Netanyahu because of his own ongoing trial, Netanyahu was forced to accept conditions laid out by his coalition partners. However, now the government has been formed not all those promises will necessarily be implemented as the coalition agreements and the government guidelines are themselves not legally binding.
  • In the build-up to forming the government there has been significant focus on its most extreme members, particularly Itamar Ben-Gvir. Yesterday he offered assurances saying, “We came to serve everyone. I will be a minister for everyone. For Jews and Arabs, who are suffering too, from crime.”
  • Similarly, earlier in the week Bezalel Smotrich wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in which he said that “we seek to strengthen every citizen’s freedoms and the country’s democratic institutions.”
    • He continued: “On matters of religion and state, the new government will never seek to impose anything on a citizen that goes against his or her beliefs. We wish only to increase the freedom of religious people to participate in the public sphere in accordance with their faith, without coercion on secular people.”
    • “My critics also mischaracterise the reforms I’ve proposed in my secondary role as a minister in the Defence Ministry with responsibility for certain civil issues in Judea and Samaria. Whatever one’s opinion on ending the Israeli-Arab conflict, the current situation in these regions, in which a feckless military government lacks the civil-service orientation required for governing civil life, is unsustainable. The army needs to deal with security and leave governing to a civil system capable of providing efficient service and protecting individual rights. Our reforms are aimed at developing the area’s infrastructure, employment and economy for the benefit of all. This doesn’t entail changing the political or legal status of the area. If the Palestinian Authority decides to dedicate some of its time and energy to its citizens’ welfare rather than demonising Jews and funding the murder of Israelis, it would find me a full partner in that endeavour.”
    • “Israel’s justice system also needs urgent reform to restore democratic balance, individual rights and public trust. In the U.S., elected politicians appoint federal judges, including Supreme Court justices, making the bench at least indirectly responsive to the people. In Israel, sitting Supreme Court justices have veto power over new appointments to the court.”
  • The only non-parliamentarian appointed minister is former Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer. Dermer has long been Netanyahu’s most trusted adviser and served as a key figure in the signing of the Abraham Accords. He will now serve as Minister for Strategic Affairs and will likely work on reaching a normalisation agreement with Saudi Arabia.

Opposition to the new government: Domestic opposition to the new government has been extensive and has come from various sectors:

  • During the swearing in hundreds of people protested outside the Knesset, many of whom identified with the LGBTQ community and were concerned by the appointments of figures with a record of anti-LGBTQ positions to cabinet roles.
    • In recent weeks thousands have attended other protests organised by outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party.
    • Last week leading figures in Israeli high-tech industry wrote a letter of protest to Netanyahu in which they shared their concerns about the new government.
    • Over 200 senior doctors signed a document highlighting their concern about the collapse of the legal system.
    • Over 1,000 past and present pilots and aircrew members from the Air Force sent a letter to the president of the Supreme Court, Esther Hayut, asking that she stop democracy from being destroyed.
    • Several large companies announced that they would not cooperate with any form of discrimination. Israel Discount Bank announced that it would not extend credit to any business or organisation that discriminates on the basis of religion, race, gender or sexual orientation. The Vice President at Microsoft Corporation made a similar commitment.
    • Over 100 former diplomats also wrote to Netanyahu, with “profound concern at the serious damage to Israel’s foreign relations, its international standing and its core interests abroad emanating from what will apparently be the policy of the incoming government.”
    • In early December, over 50 Israeli local authorities pre-emptively declared that they would refuse to cooperate with policies proceeding from Deputy Minister (and sole Noam MK) Avi Moaz’s education brief.

Looking ahead: The first legal hurdle will be next Thursday when an expanded panel of 11 Supreme Court justices will rule on petitions that have been filed against the appointment of Aryeh Deri as minister.

  • If the court rules against the appointment it is likely to precipitate the coalition advancing legislation to override the court.
  • The Ultra-orthodox are demanding the passing of a military draft bill and are threatening to impose a veto against the 2023 budget if this issue is not resolved. Without passing a budget the government will fall.