Outgoing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held a transition of power ceremony and handover briefing for incoming prime minister Yair Lapid on Thursday, hours after the Knesset voted to disband and hold elections in November.
Lapid will take over the premiership at midnight. He will also continue in his current role of foreign minister.
“This special role, and this country, don’t belong to just one person but to all of the people of Israel,” said Bennett.
“I’m passing on to you the sacred baton, and responsibility for the State of Israel. I hope you protect it and that God will protect you.”
Lapid told Bennett that their brief ceremony was not a “goodbye party,” since “we’re not parting from you.”
“I’ve worked under prime ministers, I know prime ministers. You are a good person and excellent prime minister, and you are a good friend,” Lapid said to Bennett.
In a gesture of affection, Bennett blessed Lapid with a prayer customarily recited by parents over their children at the outset of Sabbath, and Lapid said his mother had done the same shortly before. “Even secular people [do it],” Lapid said with a smile.
Addressing the challenges of the premiership, Lapid said: “We’ll do the best we can for a Jewish, democratic state, good and strong and thriving, because that is the job, and it’s bigger than all of us.”
A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said the handover process was “organized and thorough” and covered security and diplomatic matters, without elaborating.
Members of their respective staffs and families also participated in the ceremony.
Earlier Thursday, Lapid visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.
The trip was considered slightly unorthodox, as the far more common pick for a first public visit for an incoming prime minister or president is the Western Wall. Lapid, however, is secular, unlike the Orthodox Bennett.
Lapid said he visited the memorial to honor his father, who survived the Holocaust.
“Immediately after the vote in the Knesset, I went to Yad Vashem… There I promised my late father that I will always keep Israel strong and capable of defending itself and protecting its children,” Lapid said in a statement.
Immediately after the vote in the Knesset I went to @yadvashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center.
There I promised my late father that I will always keep Israel strong and capable of defending itself and protecting its children. pic.twitter.com/40LsrF1TYJ
— יאיר לפיד – Yair Lapid (@yairlapid) June 30, 2022
Lapid’s father, Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, was born in Serbia but the family was captured by the Nazis and later sent to the Budapest Ghetto.
Tommy’s father was killed in a concentration camp, while Tommy and his mother were saved by Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who famously rescued thousands of Jews from the Nazis.
Tommy Lapid eventually moved to Israel where he became a noted journalist, playwright, and eventual MK and government minister.
Later Thursday, Lapid and his wife Lihi met with President Isaac Herzog and his wife Michal at the President’s Residence.
Herzog congratulated the incoming prime minister and offered him his “help and support, as I have done with any other prime minister, and the same with you.”
He also noted that the upcoming election, held in such proximity to the four previous since 2019, puts stress on the country and urged Lapid to remember that his first priority is to run the government.
“We must remember that first of all, first and foremost, there is a country to run, a country to lead, a country that must take care of its citizens’ needs, even if there are elections,” he said. “Five elections in such a short time are very unhealthy for a country.”
Lawmakers approved November 1 as the date for the next election, which will be the fifth Israel has held within three and a half years, amid a period of political instability.
Lapid will officially enter the role of interim prime minister at midnight between Thursday and Friday, and hold the post through the elections and until a new coalition is formed.
Bennett will serve as alternate prime minister. He announced on Wednesday that he will not run in the coming elections.