The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they unfolded.
The High Court of Justice orders incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and far-right Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir to respond within two days to a petition demanding that the court prohibit the Likud leader from appointing Ben Gvir as national security minister.
The petition, filed by the Tag Meir coexistence organization, alleges that Ben Gvir has been repeatedly involved in efforts to disturb the public order, including arranging demonstrations in mixed Jewish-Arab cities during the May 2021 riots, and that he therefore cannot be appointed minister in charge of the police.
The petition also points out that Ben Gvir has been convicted in the past on charges of disturbing the public order, interfering with a police officer while performing his duty, as well as incitement to racism and supporting a terror organization.
“Ben Gvir has been involved in disturbing the public order for his entire career and it is therefore not reasonable in the extreme that he be in charge of public order,” says Tag Meir leader Gadi Gvaryahu.
Judge Isaac Amit gives Ben Gvir and Netanyahu until Wednesday to respond to the petition. The new government, including Ben Gvir as national security minister with authority over the police, is scheduled to be sworn in on Thursday.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan makes a bizarre claim that famed Portuguese soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo was given a “political ban” at the World Cup in Qatar because of his purported support for Palestinians.
“They have wasted Ronaldo. Unfortunately, they have imposed a political ban on him,” Erdogan says according to comments translated by Al Jazeera.
“Sending a footballer like Ronaldo to the pitch with just 30 minutes remaining to the match ruined his psychology and took away his energy,” Erdogan adds, saying that “Ronaldo is someone who stands for the Palestinian cause.”
Ronaldo has never made any public statements in support of the Palestinian cause, although some doctored images claiming that he has have circulated widely in the past.
Supreme Court Justice Alex Stein says he cannot rule on a petition to bar Shas leader Aryeh Deri from becoming a minister before such an appointment is made.
“In light of all the circumstances, and bearing in mind that the petition seems to be ahead of its time, I did not see fit to grant an interim ruling,” writes Stein in his response to the petition, asking Deri and incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to respond by January 4.
The Movement for Quality Government filed the petition to prevent Deri — a previously convicted criminal — from returning to office due to a plea deal he made earlier this year on tax offenses which saw him resign from the Knesset.
MQG says it welcomes Stein’s demand to ask Netanyahu and Deri to respond about “why they think it is okay for a twice-convicted criminal to serve as a minister in the government of Israel.”
After leaked reports of a call between outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi and incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the IDF confirms the conversation took place and reaffirms its authority.
A statement from the IDF spokesperson says that Kohavi and Netanyahu “spoke in recent days,” due to reports about legislation touching on IDF authority.
“During the conversation it was agreed upon that decisions that are tied to the IDF will be made only after the IDF presents the consequences and significance of such decisions,” the IDF adds in the statement.
Ukraine’s foreign minister says his government is aiming to have a peace summit by the end of February, preferably at the United Nations with Secretary-General António Guterres as a possible mediator, around the time of the anniversary of Russia’s war.
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tells The Associated Press that he was “absolutely satisfied” with the results of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to the US last week, and he reveals that the US government has made a special plan to get the Patriot missile battery ready to be operational in the country in less than six months. Usually, the training takes up to a year.
Kuleba says during the interview at the Foreign Ministry that Ukraine will do whatever it can to win the war in 2023, adding that diplomacy always plays an important role.
“Every war ends in a diplomatic way,” he says. “Every war ends as a result of the actions taken on the battlefield and at the negotiating table.”
Kuleba says that the Ukrainian government would like to have a peace summit by the end of February.
“The United Nations could be the best venue for holding this summit, because this is not about making a favor to a certain country,” he says. “This is really about bringing everyone on board.”
Asked about whether they would invite Russia to the summit, he says that first that country would need to be seated to be prosecuted for war crimes at an international court, for example.
“They can only be invited to this step in this way,” Kuleba says.
Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi amid serious concerns about coalition demands that touch on military authority, according to multiple Hebrew media reports.
The reports, which appear to be a coordinated leak to political reporters, claim that Kohavi initiated a conversation with Netanyahu over such concerns, which include the plan to provide Religious Zionism MK Bezalel Smotrich with authority over the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) agency, and a proposal to give the Chief Rabbinate control over selecting the IDF chief rabbi.
Kohavi, who will leave office on January 17, reportedly expressed “deep concern” about such activities harming the military.
Outgoing Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked gives her final speech to the Knesset plenum, warning that the incoming government is alienating many Israelis.
“Over the past few days, I have heard from friends who tell me that their friends are talking about leaving the country,” says Shaked.
“You need to take this feeling among parts of the public into account,” she adds, “in particular, concerning the legislation about discrimination and racism spoken about in recent days.”
Shaked recommends that the incoming government “not deal with these issues — it only gives many people a bad feeling and harms the State of Israel. You have many challenges facing you… Deal with what is important, and not what is unimportant and sows fear and panic.”
Shaked was a member of the outgoing “change government,” but during the most recent election campaign she expressed vocal support for Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu.
Leaders of the parties slated to form the next opposition meet in the Knesset and issue a joint statement vowing to work together against the incoming right wing-religious government.
“We will work together to fight this backward, anti-democratic government that is being established, which will dismantle Israel from within,” say party leaders Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, Benny Gantz of National Unity, Merav Michaeli of Labor, Avigdor Liberman of Yisrael Beytenu and Mansour Abbas of Ra’am.
“When we return to power, we promise to cancel any extremist legislation that harms democracy, security, the economy or Israeli society,” they add.
A representative of Hadash-Ta’al — which will also be in the opposition but does not generally cooperate with the other parties — was not present.
Activists from the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the Gulf of Eilat Rangers protest the arrival of an oil tanker in the southern Red Sea city of Eilat.
The protest forms part of a long-running attempt by green and civil society organizations and the Environmental Protection Ministry to halt the import of oil by the state Europe Asia Pipeline Company through the ecologically sensitive Gulf of Eilat.
The EAPC is using the courts to fight the Environmental Protection Ministry, which has asserted its right to set a “zero additional risk” policy that is blocking a controversial oil deal.
That deal was signed between the EAPC and an Israeli-Emirati business consortium called MED-RED Land Bridge.
A memorandum of understanding, inked in 2020, allowed the EAPC to receive Gulf oil at its Eilat port and transport it via above-ground pipes to Ashkelon, where it will be reloaded onto tankers bound for Europe.
Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin announces his intention to resign from the position tomorrow.
The move is expected to pave the Likud MK’s way to receiving a senior ministerial position — likely justice minister — in the next government.
Levin became temporary Knesset speaker two weeks ago, giving Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu more time to decide who will get the job on a permanent basis.
Netanyahu has still not decided how to divide the remaining jobs — including Knesset speaker — among Likud MKs, though he will have to do so in the coming days.
Police say they have launched an investigation into a suspected hate crime in a West Bank Palestinian village overnight.
Palestinian media outlets reported that vehicles were set alight in the village of Urif, near both Nablus and the settlement of Yitzhar, possibly by extremist settlers.
The suspected hate crime came shortly after an Israeli car was targeted by Palestinian gunmen in the area.
Police say officers have entered the village to collect evidence as part of an investigation.
Anti-Palestinian vandalism by Jewish extremists is a common occurrence in the West Bank.
Incidents of vandalism against Palestinians and Israeli security forces are commonly referred to as “price tag” attacks, with perpetrators calling them retaliation for Palestinian violence or government policies seen as hostile to the settler movement.
— عربي بوست (@arabic_post) December 26, 2022
Hundreds of Bahraini citizens demonstrate against the “occupying entity” — aka Israel — in Manama.
Despite Bahrain joining the Abraham Accords and normalizing ties with Israel, the protesters decry the presence of Israelis in the island kingdom, shouting: “Death to Israel.”
Opposition sources say they are not opposed to Hanukkah celebrations in Bahrain, according to Channel 13 news.
Bahrain and Israel recognized each other as part of the 2020 Abraham Accords, but public support for the agreement has steadily declined in the kingdom.
The country — which has a Shiite majority ruled by a Sunni royal family — allowed small protests during President Isaac Herzog’s visit earlier this month.
— LuaLuaTV (@LuaLuaEnglish) December 25, 2022
United Torah Judaism party chief Yitzhak Goldknopf withdraws his demand for a seat on the security cabinet, days after the request kicked off a political firestorm.
A spokesman for Goldknopf confirms that he has rescinded the request.
Goldknopf leads the Agudat Yisrael faction within UTJ. Its other constituent party, Degel HaTorah, threatened to reopen coalition agreements if Goldknopf did not walk back the demand.
Many UTJ representatives, including Goldknopf, did not serve in the military, and are fighting to expand ultra-Orthodox exemptions from IDF service.
Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu accuses outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid of not respecting the results of the November 1 election.
“Lapid, losing the election is not the end of democracy, it is the essence of democracy. You refuse to accept the people’s decision,” Netanyahu says in a video message.
Netanyahu’s comments come shortly after Lapid accused Netanyahu’s incoming right-religious government of “looting” democratic values and preparing to infringe upon minority rights.
“You are inciting the public against the people’s decision, you spread endless lies against the elected government. What will be your next step? Send your protesters to climb the Knesset fences?” Netanyahu continues.
Netanyahu calls on Lapid “to behave responsibly, to accept the people’s decision, and to transfer power in an orderly manner so that we can fix everything you have destroyed in the last year and a half.”
Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin formally informs the Knesset plenum that Benjamin Netanyahu has announced his ability to form Israel’s next government.
By law, Netanyahu now has seven days before he must swear in his six-party coalition, which includes three far-right parties and two ultra-Orthodox parties in addition to his right-wing Likud.
Levin says that a hearing and vote on the incoming government is slated for Thursday morning, but the latest it can be held is Monday, January 2.
Netanyahu still has to overcome some key stumbling blocks before swearing in the government, including formalizing coalition agreements with almost all of his partners, dividing jobs among his Likud party members, and finalizing two key pieces of legislation demanded by coalition partners as preconditions.
Outgoing Defense Minister Benny Gantz issues a public call to Haredi political parties to oppose elements of religious coercion and discrimination that are being hotly debated in coalition agreements.
“What you’re doing and supporting these days is to turn Israel from a Jewish state into a religious state,” says Gantz at a faction meeting of his Blue and White party in the Knesset. “From a Jewish state to a tribal state — and the result will harm Judaism, harm religion and harm the State of Israel as a whole.”
Gantz says that legislation allowing for discrimination and racism “will hurt you first of all… and will push you further away from the general population.” He adds that such moves could lead to “hotels only for secular people, workplaces announcing they won’t accept Haredim.”
When that happens, Gantz says, “remember that you were part of the constellation that whitewashed harm to minorities. That disintegrated us into tribes.”
“The price of religious coercion will be serious and severe,” Gantz adds.
Members of the 25th Knesset are told to prepare to vote on and swear in the next government on Thursday — barring any unseen delays.
Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has until Monday to swear in the government, after he is expected to present it to the Knesset this afternoon. If he is unable to smooth out the final kinks, it could be pushed off until early next week.
Legislative battles and ongoing negotiations have held up the formation of the government following the November 1 national election.
Prime Minister Yair Lapid says policies being pushed by members of the incoming government constitute a “looting of democratic values.”
“I ask myself who was most fearful yesterday to live in this country,” he says at the start of his Yesh Atid party’s faction meeting in the Knesset. “LGBTQs who heard from Simcha Rothman that they will be barred from hotels? Arabs who heard from Orit Strock that doctors can refuse to treat them? Activists in women’s organizations who discovered they are on Avi Maoz’s blacklists. Reform and Conservative Jews who heard from [MK Meir] Porush that they will be barred from the Western Wall? Or senior members of the state prosecution and the police who heard from Yair Netanyahu that they should be prosecuted for treason, for which the penalty is death?”
Lapid is referring in part to a coalition demand touted yesterday by Religious Zionism MKs that would allow business owners and even doctors to refuse service if it interferes with their religious sensibilities — something Netanyahu had to twice clarify he does not support.
Lapid continues: “This is no longer a political struggle. It is a battle for the soul of the state of Israel as a Jewish state, as a democratic state, as a sane state.”
“If anyone thinks that this will stop with the formation of the government, they are completely mistaken,” Lapid says.
“It never stops. There has never been –- anywhere in the world, at any moment in history – religious and nationalist extremism that one day and on its own initiative says, ‘that’s it, enough for me, I’m stopping,'” Lapid adds.
“This attack will not stop on its own. They will not suddenly fall in love with democracy. They will not see the light and come to the conclusion that they believe in the liberal values of [Israel’s] Declaration of Independence,” Lapid continues. “They won’t stop. If we don’t stop them, it will get much worse.”
“We’ve seen governments being formed in Israel. What’s happening here is not a normal process,” he adds. “What we’re seeing is the weakest prime minister ever and a government of disorder. This is not a ‘full right’ government. This is a full-on government of madness.”
Lapid concludes: “We do not intend to sit quietly at a time when they are taking the state of Israel apart from within.”
More than 1,000 former senior Israel Air Force personnel issue a letter to Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut and other top legal officials, warning against Benjamin Netanyahu’s incoming right-wing and religious government.
“We were all ready to sacrifice our lives for the country throughout our years as combat pilots. Even after serving in the Air Force, we continued to take part in building the state to the best of our ability,” the 1,197 officials write in the letter.
“We come from all levels of society and the political spectrum… but what we all have in common today is the fear that the democratic state of Israel is in danger,” they write.
“You are the last line of defense and it is in your hands to stop the process of destroying democracy,” the officials tell Hayut, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, Knesset legal adviser Sagit Afik, and the rest of Israel’s legal system.
“The State of Israel, which was established as a Jewish and democratic state, will not be able to exist as declared by the declaration of independence, if it gives up its identity as a liberal democracy,” they add.
Among the signatories is former IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz.
Likud MK David Bitan slams his party’s coalition partners in the incoming government for their behavior during coalition negotiations as well as comments they made in recent days.
“It’s not just that they’re not acting like adults — they’re acting like little kids,” says Bitan in an interview on Knesset TV, calling out by name MKs Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir.
Likud’s coalition partners — the Religious Zionism, Otzma Yehudit, Shas and United Torah Judaism parties — have “exploited the fact that there is no alternative, and this is what happened,” says Bitan, pointing to extreme demands made during negotiations.
Bitan, who was once Netanyahu’s fiercest defender in the press but has sparred with him more recently, says the Likud chief needs to take a firm stance as head of the incoming government.
“Netanyahu has to show that he’s the one in charge… if not, he’ll suffer through his entire term in office,” says Bitan.
Bitan says even his fellow Likud MKs who agree with his criticism “are not speaking. They’re scared to speak” — in particular those who are waiting to receive a ministerial post, he notes.
“Don’t you think Amir Ohana should have commented on issues of the LGBT community — of course he should have,” says Bitan of Likud’s only openly gay MK, referencing the uproar over anti-LGBT comments made yesterday by Religious Zionism MKs.
The so-called Ben Gvir law, which will give incoming national security minister Itamar Ben Gvir more power over the Israel Police than previously held by his office, advances out of committee and will now face its second and third Knesset readings before becoming law.
Members of the special committee voted 7-5 in favor of advancing the controversial bill. The final votes are expected today or tomorrow.
The bill will make the police and its leadership subordinate to the national security minister and under the government’s authority, as well as allow Ben Gvir the ability to set police policy, with the exception of making decisions on whether individuals should be charged.
Russia’s FSB domestic security service says it has killed a group of saboteurs from Ukraine that attempted to cross into a Russian border region.
“As a result of a clash on December 25, 2022, four saboteurs, who attempted to enter the territory of Bryansk region from Ukraine, were killed,” the FSB says in a statement carried by Russian news agencies.
It adds that they were carrying foreign weapons and “improvised explosive devices.”
Former justice minister Dan Meridor says that incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu puts his own ambition for power and rule above all.
“He is not a racist, but he is willing to cause damage to Israeli society in order to go back to the prime ministership,” Meridor tells The Times of Israel.
The former Likud minister cites the extreme promises Netanyahu made in coalition agreements, such as legislation that would allow businesses to refuse service to individuals, including members of the LGBT community, if it offends their religious sensibilities. Netanyahu later said he would not support any such discrimination.
“Netanyahu is doing here something that is not his worldview, but he’s willing to pay any price because of his goal to return as a prime minister — and maybe also connected to his criminal trial,” suggests Meridor. “If it were me, I would not enter any coalition with politicians who are racists. I would prefer even to hold another election over forming such a government.”
Meridor says that today’s public discourse represents a “profound change in the values of Israeli society,” blaming Netanyahu for normalizing the racist rhetoric and policies of Otzma Yehudit leader MK Itamar Ben Gvir.
“For many years, politicians who made these kinds of statements were outside the consensus,” says Meridor. “Netanyahu broke this pattern, because he wanted their votes and support — and now he is joining together with [Religious Zionism MK Bezalel] Smotrich, who said his wife will not share a hospital room with an Arab woman, and with Ben Gvir, who speaks about the deportation of Arabs.”
Meridor says he does not believe that all Likud MKs agree with such moves, “but they do not speak out.”
As The Times of Israel’s political correspondent, I spend my days in the Knesset trenches, speaking with politicians and advisers to understand their plans, goals and motivations.
I'm proud of our coverage of this government's plans to overhaul the judiciary, including the political and social discontent that underpins the proposed changes and the intense public backlash against the shakeup.
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