Coalition of firsts: A national religious PM, most Arabs, most female ministers

Many records will be broken if the Lapid-Bennett government is sworn in, from the most factions to the most journalists to the most ex-Netanyahu aides

Yamina head Naftali Bennett (L) and Labor chair Merav Michaeli in the Knesset plenum for the election of Israel's 11th president, June 2, 2021. (Dani Shem Tov/ Knesset)
Yamina head Naftali Bennett (L) and Labor chair Merav Michaeli in the Knesset plenum for the election of Israel's 11th president, June 2, 2021. (Dani Shem Tov/ Knesset)

The coalition being formed by Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid and Yamina’s Naftali Bennett would mark many firsts and break no small number of records in Israel’s political history.

The planned appointment of Bennett as prime minister, in rotation with Lapid, would be the first time that Israel will be led by a religiously observant, kippa-wearing prime minister. If the government is sworn in, Bennett will also be the leader of the smallest faction ever to appoint a prime minister, as his Yamina has a mere seven MKs, one of whom has declared he will vote against the proposed coalition, and another of whom has said he may do so.

Bennett, 49, will also be Israel’s second-youngest prime minister — the record for youngest stays with Netanyahu, who was just 46 the first time he assumed the role in 1996.

The new government, if it is indeed sworn in sometime in the next 12 days, would be the first one in which the faction leader who assumes the post of prime minister (Bennett) is not the same one who actually received the mandate to form a government (Lapid). Lapid would step into the post only in September 2023.

Yamina chief Naftali Bennett (left) and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid as they inform President Reuven Rivlin they have succeeded in forming a government, June 2, 2021 (Courtesy)

A record-breaking eight women are likely to hold ministerial portfolios in the planned government, including some of the most influential ones: transportation minister Merav Michaeli (Labor), interior minister Ayelet Shaked (Yamina), education minister Yifat Shasha-Biton (New Hope), economy minister Orna Barbivai (Yesh Atid), culture minister Karine Elharrar (Yesh Atid), social equality minister Merav Cohen (Yesh Atid), immigrant absorption minister Pnina Tamano-Shata (Blue and White), and environmental protection minister Tamar Zandberg (Meretz).

Then-Yesh Atid candidate Maj. Gen. (res.) Orna Barbivai at a press conference announcing her run on the party’s Knesset list, in Tel Aviv on January 1, 2018. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

There will be eight Arab MKs in the coalition, and although Ra’am is not the first Arab party to serve in government, it is the first time that one has played such a key role in its formation.

Analysts have noted that the cabinet would be a diverse one, with at least one-third of the government’s members being of Mizrahi origin. It would include an Arab minister, Regional Cooperation Minister Issawi Frej of Meretz, and an Ethiopia-born one in Tamano-Shata.

Meretz MK Issawi Frej attends an economic committee meeting at the Knesset on July 12, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

There are a record-breaking eight factions in the coalition, four of which are led by former journalists — Lapid, Michaeli, New Hope’s Gideon Sa’ar and Meretz’s Nitzan Horowitz — marking another first.

Five of the eight faction heads have previously served as ministers in Netanyahu governments — Lapid, Sa’ar, Bennett, Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman and Blue and White’s Benny Gantz.

Three of the eight faction heads started their careers as senior aides to Netanyahu — Bennett, Liberman and Sa’ar. Yamina’s Shaked also worked for Netanyahu for a number of years.

Party leaders in the emerging coalition: This combination of pictures created on June 2, 2021 shows (Top (L to R) Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, Yamina leader Naftali Bennett, New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Lieberman, (bottom L to R) Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas, and Labour leader Merav Michaeli. (Photos by AFP)

Despite claims by Netanyahu that the nascent coalition is a “left-wing government” that is “a danger to the security of Israel and a danger to the future of the state,” the top-level security cabinet will have a clear majority of right-wing members, Hebrew media reported Sunday.

According to reports by the Kan public broadcaster and Channel 12 news, the high-level body will be made up of either 10 or 12 members, but in either case with a clear right-wing majority.

Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked holds a press conference at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on May 26, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

According to the reports, the security cabinet will include three Yamina members — Bennett, Shaked and Matan Kahana. There will be two members of the Likud-breakaway New Hope party, Gideon Sa’ar and Ze’ev Elkin, along with Yisrael Beytenu’s Liberman.

Yesh Atid will only have one security cabinet member: Lapid. There will also be one representative from Blue and White, Gantz; one from Labor, Michaeli; and one from Meretz, Horowitz.

Under such a scenario, the right would have a 6-4 majority over the center and left.

The report also said that talks were underway on adding two more members, Labor’s Omer Barlev and New Hope’s Yoaz Hendel. If added, the right would enjoy a 7-5 advantage.

Under Israeli law, the security cabinet can consist of no more than half the number of ministers in the government. It can include additional ministers who are observers and can’t vote on cabinet decisions.

By law, the prime minister, defense minister, foreign minister, finance minister, public security minister and justice minister must all be members of the security cabinet.

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