A day after they gained the confidence of the Knesset and were sworn into office, Monday saw the ministers of the newly confirmed government take up their roles at various ministries, where some were treated to handover ceremonies by their predecessors and others were not.
Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who the night before was ousted from power after 12 years in office by the incoming coalition, gave his replacement, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, less than an hour — according to some reports, just half an hour — for their handover, before publicly declaring that he would swiftly bring down the new government.
The formal transfer of power ended without the traditional ceremony and public good wishes, without a handshake and with no photo-op, an indication of the animus Netanyahu harbors toward Bennett, his own one-time chief of staff.
Netanyahu had scheduled in advance a political meeting with opposition party chiefs for shortly after his parlay with Bennett.
Speaking at the meeting of right-wing parties that followed Netanyahu to the opposition — notably excluding the predominantly Arab Israeli Joint List, which is also in the opposition — Likud MK Miki Zohar introduced the former premier as “prime minister.”
“For me, you’ll always be prime minister,” he said when corrected.
Addressing the heads of the parties, Netanyahu demanded discipline and cohesion in order to make life harder on the coalition and “rescue the people and State of Israel.”
Throughout his address, the former premier did not mention Bennett by name, nor refer to his successor as prime minister. Instead, he said the new government was based on “fraud, hate and power-seeking” and too fractured to succeed.
“It can be overthrown on the condition that we act together and with iron discipline. If we squabble, we will not achieve it,” he said.
“My request is to shoot [politically] from the armored vehicle outwards, and to hit,” he added, paraphrasing an Israeli idiom. “If we concentrate our effort outwards, we will bring them down.”
“If we work toward that goal we will succeed, but if we clash with each other we won’t,” he said, in possible implicit criticism of Likud MK David Bitan, who earlier Monday blamed the Religious Zionism party chief, Bezalel Smotrich, for Netanyahu’s ouster.
As the now-former ministers from Netanyahu’s government handed over the portfolios to their successors from the new government, some echoed the outgoing prime minister’s message of total opposition, while others made a clear effort to aid the new ministers in the short transition process.
Under the terms of a power-sharing agreement between them, Yamina party leader Bennett will serve as prime minister for just over two years and will be followed in the Prime Minister’s Office by his coalition partner Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid, leader of Yesh Atid.
Lapid was treated to a formal ceremony at the Foreign Ministry, where he will in the meantime serve as the country’s top diplomat, in place of Gabi Ashkenazi of the Blue and White party, which is also part of the new coalition.
Lapid vowed to rebuild ties with the Democratic Party in the United States, blaming the outgoing government for damaging Israel’s relationship with the party that currently controls the US presidency, Senate and House of Representatives.
“The management of the relationship with the Democratic Party in the United States was careless and dangerous,” Lapid said. “The outgoing government took a terrible gamble, reckless and dangerous, to focus exclusively on the Republican Party and abandon Israel’s bipartisan standing… We find ourselves with a Democratic White House, Senate and House, and they are angry. We need to change the way we work with them.”
Lapid also said that Israel must repair ties with Diaspora Jewry: “Jews from all streams, Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox, are our family. And family is always the most important relationship, and the one that needs to be worked on more than any other.”
The new foreign minister vowed to strengthen Israel’s ties with its regional neighbors, including new allies in the Gulf — the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — as well as older allies Jordan and Egypt.
“We need to continue the development that started with the Abraham Accords. To work to strengthen the peace with the Gulf States, with Egypt and with Jordan,” he said. “We will work to sign agreements with more countries in the region and beyond. It’s a process, it won’t happen in a day, but the Foreign Ministry will coordinate those efforts.”
Ashkenazi, who is retiring from politics, tweeted a photo of himself with Lapid during their meeting and wished him “great success, you have wonderful partners for your journey. Rise up and succeed.”
— גבי אשכנזי – Gabi Ashkenazi (@Gabi_Ashkenazi) June 14, 2021
Over at the Interior Ministry, incoming minister Ayelet Shaked, the Yamina No. 2, declared that she will “work to return migrants to their countries” as she took over from MK Aryeh Deri, of Netanyahu’s Likud party.
“I will do my best to implement responsible immigration policy while providing an appropriate response in established humanitarian situations,” Shaked said.
“I will work to return infiltrators to their country and encourage voluntary departure to safe third countries,” she said.
Shaked also said she intends to decentralize governance and give responsibility over to local authorities, which are not supposed to just be “contractors for the central government.”
Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar also took up his office, replacing Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, who will continue in his second role of defense minister.
“I intend to promote vital changes for the citizens of the country and improve the justice system,” Sa’ar said during the ceremony, which was also attended by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, whose office is in the Justice Ministry.
“There is room to fix the legal system, which hasn’t had any changes for many years,” he said. “I came to fix, not to destroy.”
Sa’ar, the leader of the right-wing New Hope, added that Israel’s legal system “is in desperate need of responsible changes today that will be made in a nonpartisan manner.”
Mandelblit heaped praise on outgoing minister Gantz during the ceremony.
“You stood as a brick wall to thwart the attempts to undermine the status of the attorney general,” Mandelblit told Gantz.
It may have been a hint at Sa’ar, who has said he is in favor of splitting the attorney general role from that of legal adviser to the government, due to the alleged inherent conflict of interest in the same person holding both roles.
Speaking to Sa’ar, Mandelblit said: “It is no secret that the Justice Ministry has undergone a period of instability. This isn’t right. You face many challenges. We are here at your disposal.”
Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman was installed as finance minister, replacing senior Likud lawmaker Israel Katz.
In a joint statement, the two said they “wished each other success for the future.”
Later, at his Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting, Liberman reportedly vowed to not raise taxes.
Public Security Minister Omer Barlev took over from Likud’s outgoing Amir Ohana, though there was no ceremony held, at the instruction of the new minister.
Barlev cited the ongoing security tensions and the events of recent weeks that included violence between Jews and Arabs, clashes in East Jerusalem between police and Palestinians, and fighting with the Gaza Strip, all of which were tied to each other.
“This is not a day for ceremonies,” he said in late-night statement Sunday.
Barlev was given a baptism of fire as on his first day on the job he was required to review and decide whether to approve a contentious march by Jewish nationalists through the Old City of Jerusalem, which could reignite violence.
He said Monday that the so-called flag march, slated for Tuesday, “will proceed as scheduled.”
“In a democracy, it is allowed and important to demonstrate within the confines of the law,” Barlev said. “We will hold a police assessment about the events and we will operate according to the recommendations of the police.”
Welcoming his successor as housing minister, United Torah Judaism’s Yaakov Litzman wished New Hope’s Ze’ev Elkin luck “as a personal friend,” but added that “this government should be dismantled and we will work to that end in full force.”
“The housing crisis is hard on all communities and especially the ultra-Orthodox community, and much work is needed, but unfortunately I don’t expect anything from this government,” he said, adding, “All the curses that appear in the Torah are valid for the government.”
In another switching of seats, Science, Technology and Space Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen replaced Blue and White’s Chili Tropper, who instead became the new minister for culture and sports.
New Economics Minister Orna Barbivai of Yesh Atid replaced outgoing Amir Peretz, who is also retiring from politics.
And Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Bitton, of New Hope, took over from Likud’s Yoav Gallant.
Other handover ceremonies are expected to take place throughout the week.