Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition was formally sworn in on Thursday night after a raucous Knesset session that saw constant heckling, along with accusations by opposition leader Isaac Herzog that the freshly inaugurated government was “a circus.”
The Netanyahu government, formed after arduous negotiations following the March 17 elections, thus finally took office almost two months after polling day, with the narrowest possible parliamentary majority.
The vote on the new cabinet passed by 61 to 59 — representing the balance of forces in the Knesset: Netanyahu’s five-party coalition numbers 61 members (Likud, 30; Kulanu, 10; Jewish Home, 8; Shas, 7; and United Torah Judaism, 6), to the opposition’s 59 seats (Zionist Union, 24; Joint Arab List, 13; Yesh Atid, 11; Yisrael Beytenu, 6; and Meretz, 5).
Earlier, taking the stand in the plenum, Netanyahu issued an appeal for electoral reform, and, in a veiled appeal to Zionist Union party chief Herzog, said he was leaving the “door open” to expanding his cabinet.
“I am leaving the door open to expanding the government for two reasons. The first: Because I think the state needs it. And second: Because this is the only way to amend this [political system],” Netanyahu said.
Turning to Herzog, he said, “I assume that the leader of the opposition won’t enter the government, but we must come together to change the system.”
Netanyahu then read out the members of his cabinet, announcing for the first time that MK Silvan Shalom would be interior minister and deputy prime minister, MK Benny Begin and MK Ofir Akunis would be ministers-without-portfolio, and MK Yariv Levin would hold both the public security and tourism ministries.
He also urged MK Gilad Erdan, number two on the Likud list, to reconsider his decision to stay out of the cabinet. Erdan had turned down an offer to continue in his role of interior minister, Likud sources said Thursday.
In his address, Netanyahu thanked MK Tzachi Hanegbi for accepting the position of coalition chairman and Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman. But Hanegbi said in a statement that he had not accepted those positions and the prime minister’s comment was made without his knowledge. Likud officials said later that Hanegbi will replace Akunis as minister-without-portfolio a year from now.
The prime minister’s brief speech was punctuated by catcalls from members of the Joint (Arab) List, in what appeared to be a coordinated effort. At least three of the Knesset members were escorted out of the session and the remainder filed out a short while later.
The prime minister’s apparent offer to join forces with the Zionist Union was rejected by Herzog.
“You did not form a government, you formed a circus,” Herzog said when he took the stand after Netanyahu.
“This is a government without vision, without a working plan, without hope,” he added.
Herzog told Netanyahu that his coalition partners had “pickpocketed” him, extracting wide-ranging concessions, on policy and in cabinet positions, from the prime minister.
“Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin would have been ashamed of you. You created a government at any price. Everything just so you would stay in your position [of power], for longer, and longer and longer,” Herzog said.
Jabotinsky is considered the father of the Revisionist Zionist movement, while his student Begin founded the Likud party.
Herzog told Netanyahu to hand over the Foreign Ministry to one of his Likud party members. The prime minister has held the portfolio, in a move widely speculated as collateral to ultimately woo either Herzog or Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman to join the coalition.
“I advise you, Mr. Prime Minister, not to hold onto the Foreign Ministry. Give it tonight to a member of your party,” Herzog said. “No fair leader would join the Netanyahu circus you have formed at the last moment, at any price, just to stay in power.”
Joint (Arab) List leader Ayman Odeh said he could not wish the government well, since its success would spell disaster for the Arab population.
“A black flag of racism flies over this government,” he said in his speech.
Earlier, most of the Likud members who received portfolios were announced after days of negotiations with the prime minister. The list included MK Miri Regev, who will serve as culture and sports minister, MK Danny Danon as science and technology minister, and MK Haim Katz as welfare minister.
MK Gila Gamliel was appointed minister of gender equality, minority equality, youth advancement, and seniors citizens, on Thursday night.
Shortly before 9 p.m., MK Zeev Elkin was named minister of immigration absorption and strategic affairs. Elkin will also be included in the security cabinet. MK Tzipi Hotovely will serve as deputy foreign minister.
Netanyahu named Likud MK Yuval Steinitz as the new cabinet’s minister of energy and infrastructure, after indicating Wednesday that fellow party member Yisrael Katz would receive the intelligence portfolio along with the Transportation Ministry, which he headed in the outgoing cabinet.
Both Katz and Steinitz will also be appointed to the exclusive security cabinet, according to announcements.
Moshe Ya’alon will keep his post as defense minister.
David Azoulay (Shas) will serve as minister of religious services; Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) as minister of agriculture and rural development; Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) as minister of education, Jerusalem and diaspora affairs; Avi Gabbay (Kulanu) as minister of environmental protection; and Yoav Galant (Kulanu) as minister of housing and construction.
Aryeh Deri (Shas) will be economy minister, Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) will be finance minister, and Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) will be justice minister.