ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 141

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Despite bad blood with Democrats, Dermer said tasked as point man on Biden WH

Strategic affairs minister to also reportedly help shepherd normalization deal with Saudi Arabia; government’s first day marked by tensions with attorney general, LGBTQ protests

  • Members of the new Israeli government, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pose for a group photo at the president's residence in Jerusalem, on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Members of the new Israeli government, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pose for a group photo at the president's residence in Jerusalem, on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • Members of the new government gather for a family photo at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan SIndel/Flash90)
    Members of the new government gather for a family photo at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan SIndel/Flash90)
  • Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer arrives at an event at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer arrives at an event at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • Members of the LGBTQ community and supporters participate in a protest against the new Israeli government in Tel Aviv on December 29, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
    Members of the LGBTQ community and supporters participate in a protest against the new Israeli government in Tel Aviv on December 29, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
  • From left, ministers Yoav Gallant, Aryeh Deri, Benjamin Netanyahu, Yariv Levin and Eli Cohen in the Knesset on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
    From left, ministers Yoav Gallant, Aryeh Deri, Benjamin Netanyahu, Yariv Levin and Eli Cohen in the Knesset on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
  • Members of the LGBTQ community and supporters participate in a protest against the new Israeli government in Tel Aviv on December 29, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
    Members of the LGBTQ community and supporters participate in a protest against the new Israeli government in Tel Aviv on December 29, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
  • Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana in his first Knesset plenum session after being selected for the role, in Jerusalem, December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
    Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana in his first Knesset plenum session after being selected for the role, in Jerusalem, December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
  • Itamar Ben Gvir, center, is seen during the government's swearing-in at the Knesset plenum on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
    Itamar Ben Gvir, center, is seen during the government's swearing-in at the Knesset plenum on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
  • Outgoing Justice minister Gideon Sa'ar, right, and Outgoing prime minister Yair Lapid at the swearing-in ceremony of the new Netanyahu government at the Knesset, December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
    Outgoing Justice minister Gideon Sa'ar, right, and Outgoing prime minister Yair Lapid at the swearing-in ceremony of the new Netanyahu government at the Knesset, December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
  • Israelis protest outside the Knesset ahead of a swearing-in ceremony of the new government, in Jerusalem, December 29, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/FLASH90)
    Israelis protest outside the Knesset ahead of a swearing-in ceremony of the new government, in Jerusalem, December 29, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/FLASH90)
  • Members of the new government gather for a family photo at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, on December 29, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
    Members of the new government gather for a family photo at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, on December 29, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
  • Benjamin Netanyahu swears in as prime minister, regaining power a year and a half after he was ousted, in the Knesset on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
    Benjamin Netanyahu swears in as prime minister, regaining power a year and a half after he was ousted, in the Knesset on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
  • (L-R) Yair, Sara and Avner Netanyahu at a Knesset plenum session on forming Benjamin Netanyahu's new government, in Jerusalem, December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
    (L-R) Yair, Sara and Avner Netanyahu at a Knesset plenum session on forming Benjamin Netanyahu's new government, in Jerusalem, December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
  • The swearing in ceremony of the new Israeli government at Knesset on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
    The swearing in ceremony of the new Israeli government at Knesset on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
  • Protesters wave flags and hold banners against Benjamin Netanyahu's new government in front of the Knesset in Jerusalem, December 29, 2022. (Miri Pomerantz)
    Protesters wave flags and hold banners against Benjamin Netanyahu's new government in front of the Knesset in Jerusalem, December 29, 2022. (Miri Pomerantz)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they unfolded.

Four minors said arrested at protest marking 2 years since settler teen’s death

The right-wing Honenu group says four minors have been arrested at a Jerusalem rally marking the two-year anniversary of the death of settler teen Ahuvia Sandak.

Videos from the protest near the Strings Bridge at the entrance to the capital show cops shoving demonstrators trying to block traffic back onto the sidewalk, and a young boy being led away by police.

There is no immediate comment from police.

Sandak, 16, was killed when his car rolled over on a West Bank highway as he fled police after being accused of throwing stones at Palestinians. Protesters have pushed for the cops who chased him to be prosecuted, alleging that his car was rammed by police.

US-based Palestinian journalist allowed back on Twitter

Said Arikat, a Washington correspondent for Jerusalem-based news outlet al-Quds, says he has been reinstated on Twitter after being kicked off nearly a month ago.

Arikat, known for acting as a persistent gadfly at State Department briefings, has claimed he did not know why his account was suspended and says he still has not received any answer after the account was returned today.

“After 4 weeks of being suspended on twitter, 4 reasons still unknown to me, my account was reinstated this afternoon,” he tweets.

Two recent articles in the right-wing Jewish mediasphere had highlighted Arikat’s role at the briefings, where he consistently presses State Department officials on US support for Israel and other issues related to the Palestinians.

Al-Quds had also been suspended from Facebook this month, but was reinstated last week.

Since being taken over by Elon Musk, Twitter has repeatedly been accused of removing journalists and others from the site for arbitrary reasons or in response to personal vendettas.

Outpost home of spokesman for Otzma Yehudit MK declared closed military zone

The far-right may have taken power, but it may have yet to have filtered down to the ground level.

Elisha Yered, a hilltop youth activist and spokesman for Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech, tweets a video showing a Border Police officer serving him with notice that his home, in the wildcat West Bank outpost of Ramat Migron, has been declared a closed military zone and ordering him to evacuate.

“You’ve been given a reasonable amount of time of 10 minutes to leave, if you do not, you will be removed,” the officer explains, as the two bicker calmly at the entrance to his makeshift home. The officer says he was contacted about the matter several times before.

“After a long day of the Knesset government swearing in, I guess someone organized a surprise for me,” Yered tweets.

“The times has come to end this persecution. We’re waiting for you, right-wing government,” he adds.

The coalition agreement calls for the Border Police to be transferred to the control of Otzma Yehudit head Itamar Ben Gvir, though the newly minted minister might not actually want control of the gendarmes yet, according to Channel 12, which says the clause in the agreement was written incorrectly.

Ramat Migron has been repeatedly razed by Israeli authorities and rebuilt by radical settler youth, including Yered.

Feting Netanyahu, Ukraine’s Zelensky says he ready for close ties with Jerusalem

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky says Kyiv is ready to work closely with Israel on achieving “victory over evil,” congratulating new Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I wish success on the way to the welfare & security of Israel,” he tweets.

He adds that Ukraine is ready “for close cooperation to strengthen our ties & confront common challenges, achieve prosperity & victory over evil.”

Kyiv has aired grievances over Israel’s refusal to supply it with air defense systems or other arms, but may be hoping for a change of tact with Netanyahu, though the new prime minister has mentioned his predecessors’ policy on the issue as an area of rare agreement.

The statement comes hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin also congratulated Netanyahu, expressing hopes for closer ties between Jerusalem and Moscow.

“I hope that the new government under your leadership will continue the line of strengthening Russian-Israeli cooperation in all areas for the benefit of our peoples, in the interest of ensuring peace and security in the Middle East,” Putin said in a message to Netanyahu, quoted in a Kremlin statement. “In Russia, we greatly appreciate your personal and long-standing contribution to strengthening friendly relations between our countries,” Putin continued.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting in Sochi, Russia, September 12, 2019. (Shamil Zhumatov/Pool Photo via AP)

Israel has taken a cautious position toward Moscow since the invasion of Ukraine in February, seeking to maintain an open channel to both sides. Jerusalem has particularly emphasized the special ties between the nations, as Israel has more than a million citizens from the former Soviet Union, while Ukraine was home to hundreds of thousands of Jews before the war.

Russia has shown frustration at Israel over its stated sympathy for Ukraine, but Putin might be optimistic about the return of Netanyahu, who had frequently boasted of his close ties with the Russian leader.

Man who crossed into Golan from Syria questioned by Shin Bet

A suspect who crossed into Israeli territory from Syria yesterday was detained by troops, the military says.

The Israel Defense Forces says in a statement that the man was arrested by forces on the eastern side of the fence — which is built in Israeli territory — in the southern Golan Heights.

Troops were conducting routine operations in the area, according to the army.

The suspect was taken for medical evaluation at a hospital before being questioned by the Shin Bet security agency.

He was not harmed during the arrest and was taken for “general tests” at the hospital, a military source says.

It is unclear why the army waited a full day to publish the incident.

Dermer to run point on White House, seek normalization deal with Saudis — report

Former envoy to the US Ron Dermer will be Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s point man with the White House, Channel 12 news reports.

Dermer, who was given a vaguely defined Strategic Affairs Ministry role, will use the post to attempt to expand the Abraham Accords, specifically seeking a normalization deal with Saudi Arabia. He will also have a seat on the high-level security cabinet, according to the report.

According to the channel, Jerusalem and Washington are working together to clinch a deal with the Saudis which would involve an Israeli okay for US arms sales to Riyadh, similar to the fighter jet sales that underpinned Israel’s normalization agreement with the United Arab Emirates.

File: Ron Dermer, Israeli ambassador to the United States, walks through the Capitol in Washington, September 11, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Saudi Arabia will demand Israel back off any plans to annex West Bank lands, which Netanyahu already nixed for the UAE deal, seek commitments regarding the preservation of the status quo on the Temple Mount and also seek moves to ease life for the Palestinians, the channel claims without a source.

The reports are redolent of overhyped speculation in the Israeli press two years ago regarding supposed Saudi willingness to consider normalization with Israel. Saudi Arabia’s 2002 peace plan called for an Israeli-Palestinian deal as a prerequisite to normalization, a paradigm that the Abraham Accords has turned on its head.

Netanyahu’s hard-line partners Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir, major proponents of Israeli annexation of the West Bank, have reportedly committed to not make any moves that would torpedo a normalization deal with Saudi Arabia, Channel 12 says.

According to the report, even if the Saudis are not convinced, Netanyahu may still use the prospect of a deal to rein in Smotrich and Ben Gvir.

The choice of Dermer as point man on the White House comes some seven years after he was essentially made persona non grata by the Obama administration, amid accusations that he and Netanyahu were working closely with Republicans to publicly oppose the White House on Iran.

Brazilian soccer king Pelé dead at 82

Pelé, the Brazilian king of soccer who won a record three World Cups and became one of the most commanding sports figures of the last century, has died. He was 82.

The standard-bearer of “the beautiful game” had undergone treatment for colon cancer since 2021. He had been hospitalized for the last month with multiple ailments.

His family and his agent Joe Fraga confirm his death.

Ministers gather for traditional photo with president

Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet of 30 ministers are convening at the President’s Residence for a traditional photo with President Isaac Herzog to mark the new government being formed.

Netanyahu grins from ear to ear while Herzog keeps a poker face, possibly to avoid projecting a sense of frivolity in the face of what is being called the most hard-right government in the nation’s history, with plans for far-reaching moves that critics say will damage Israel’s democracy and reverse rights for minority groups.

Speaking to the press as he leaves, Netanyahu says only that he will be a prime minister “for all Israeli citizens.”

Netanyahu speaks to attorney general blackballed by cabinet

In a statement to Hebrew-language media outlets, Likud says that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara after she was not invited to the cabinet meeting, and the two plan to meet on Sunday.

A Likud source tells Channel 12 news that the cabinet meeting was only ceremonial, indicating Baharav-Miara was not needed.

Nonetheless, two judicial officials tell The Times of Israel that it is unusual for her not to have been invited, noting that her predecessor Avichai Mandelblit sat in on the last government’s first meeting.

Protesters removed from Ayalon highway

Cars on the southbound lanes of the Ayalon highway have begun moving once again after police managed to clear the dozens of protesters who had been blocking traffic on the key Tel Aviv artery in a demonstration for LGBTQ rights as Israel’s new government takes power.

It is not immediately clear if there are any arrests.

Traffic in the area remains badly backed up.

Protesters leaving the Ayalon highway after blocking the freeway in Tel Aviv on December 29, 2022. (Courtesy)

Biden says he looks forward to working with Netanyahu, ‘my friend for decades,’ stresses 2-state solution

US President Joe Biden says he looks forward to working with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to advance Mideast peace after the latter swore in a new government earlier today.

“I look forward to working with Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has been my friend for decades, to jointly address the many challenges and opportunities facing Israel and the Middle East region, including threats from Iran,” Biden says in a statement.

“From the start of my Administration, we have worked with partners to promote this more hopeful vision of a region at peace, including between Israelis and Palestinians,” he says. “We aim to continue this important work with Israel’s new government under Prime Minister Netanyahu’s leadership.”

“And as we have throughout my Administration, the United States will continue to support the two-state solution and to oppose policies that endanger its viability or contradict our mutual interests and values.”

Netanyahu to cabinet: We are united, Iran number 1 priority

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells his first cabinet meeting that the government will be one without divisions.

“We are united in our goal,” he says.

He lays out the government’s main priorities: “Stopping Iran, returning security and governance, dealing with the cost of living and dramatically expanding the circle of peace,” which refers to Israel’s normalization deals with regional countries.

Anti-government protesters block busy Tel Aviv intersection, highway

As the cabinet meets in Jerusalem, in Tel Aviv, a protest in defense of LGBTQ rights has begun to block traffic near the Azrieli Towers.

Protesters at first block surface roads and later make their way onto the Ayalon Highway via the Hashalom exit, which has been blocked off by police. Traffic is also blocked near the Yehudit pedestrian bridge.

Scuffles between police and demonstrators are reported.

New Defense Minister Gallant holds call with army chief

Incoming Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has held a brief call with military chief Aviv Kohavi, his spokesman says.

Gallant also speaks with the director general of the Defense Ministry, Amir Eshel, who said he would resign when outgoing defense minister Benny Gantz is replaced.

“The two congratulated Gallant upon entering the role, and agreed that they would meet for a first working meeting tomorrow morning,” his spokesman adds.

Attorney general left out of cabinet meeting in ‘clear message’ from Netanyahu

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara has not been invited to sit in on the new government’s first cabinet meeting, Ynet reports, an extraordinary measure underlining tensions with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, which says it will seek major reforms opposed by the government’s top jurist.

“She’s not wanted here,” a source close to Netanyahu tells the outlet.

Several Likud lawmakers have called for Baharav-Miara to be fired and have sought to take power to rule on government matters out of the hands of her office. Netanyahu has also waged a campaign against the attorney general over his corruption indictments, which came under Baharav-Miara’s predecessor.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, May 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The source says the attorney general is normally a mainstay of cabinet meetings, even those that convene for ceremonial purposes.

“This is a clear, sharp message from Netanyahu to the attorney general,” the source says.

Shas minister signs order ‘canceling’ kashrut reform law passed by Knesset

New Religious Services Minister Michael Malchieli has wasted no time in signing an order delaying the implementation of the kosher certification reform passed by the last government, in what is almost surely the first stop toward its eventual nullification.

The reform, passed by the Knesset last year, was slated to enable private organizations to provide supervision services — with oversight by the Rabbinate — starting on January 1, 2023.

Reversing the move, which would have eaten into the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly on kosher certification and allowed private firms to officially declare a restaurant or food business “kosher,” has been a major goal of Haredi politicians, some of whom are closely linked with the rabbinate’s supervision agencies.

Illustrative: Kashrut supervisors inspect produce at a fruit and vegetable warehouse on March 20, 2016. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

In order to fully prevent the reform from going into place, the incoming coalition will have to pass a law, but in the meantime a built-in mechanism allows Malchieli to postpone its implementation.

The 2021 law permits the religious services minister to delay implementation by six months if they determine that one or more municipalities aren’t prepared. This can be repeated for up to five years.

How Malchieli, who entered into his position a few hours ago, was able to reach such a conclusion is anyone’s guess, but it’s mostly a moot point, as the incoming coalition should be able to pass a new bill negating the previous government’s law before it’s relevant.

A copy of the order signed by Malchieli and tweeted by Army Radio declares that Chief Rabbinate-approved supervision will continue to be the only form of supervision that can call itself “kosher.”

Haredi lawmakers appear to protest Knesset speaker’s sexual orientation

Two senior United Torah Judaism politicians seemingly protested a speech by Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, a sign of deeply ingrained homophobia within the new coalition despite promises from some that the government won’t harm LGBTQ rights.

A picture tweeted by Walla reporter Yaki Adamker shows both Jerusalem Minister Meir Porush and MK Moshe Gafni bowing their heads and looking away as Ohana gave his inaugural speech.

Ohana, the first-ever openly gay Knesset speaker, used his speech to speak in defense of LGBTQ rights, promising to protect them amid concerns over plans to legalize anti-LGBTQ discrimination from openly homophobic lawmakers.

“This Knesset, under the leadership of this speaker, won’t hurt them or any other family, period,” Ohana said, directing the comments to his husband and children watching from the gallery.

According to Adamker, with the lawmakers sitting nearby, Porush asked Gafni during the speech, “What is this thing?”

At a protest in defense of the LGBTQ community, Yesh Atid MK Yorai Lahav-Hartzenu tells Channel 12 that he fears Ohana’s words were just an empty “fig leaf,” which he referred to as a form of “pinkwashing” the government.

Lapid in note to Netanyahu: I’ll be back in 2024

A note reading “Lapid – 2024” on official prime ministerial letterhead is found left on the prime minister’s desk for incoming premier Benjamin Netanyahu, according to pictures distributed to Hebrew-language media.

Lapid later tweets a picture of it.

The note appears to be a response to the message former prime minister Naftali Bennett found from Netanyahu when he took office last year, which read, “I’ll be right back.”

A note left by Benjamin Netanyahu to his successor in 2021 declares, ‘Be Right Back!’ as aired by Channel 12 news on November 4, 2022 (Channel 12)

Netanyahu says Lapid meeting was good, more to come

Walking through a scrum of Knesset reporters on his way to a toast for the new government, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says a brief meeting between him and outgoing PM Yair Lapid was “good, comprehensive and to the point.”

The handover meeting between the two reportedly runs some 45 minutes.

Netanyahu says meetings with the opposition leader will continue on a monthly basis, “as we had done.”

As opposition leader, Netanyahu turned down meetings with Lapid for over a year until August 2022.

US ambassador congratulates Netanyahu, does not mention shared values

US Ambassador Tom Nides tweets his congratulations to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his new government in a tweet hailing strong ties between Jerusalem and Washington, but pointedly not mentioning shared values.

“Here’s to the rock solid U.S.-Israel relationship and unbreakable ties,” he writes.

Nides and other US officials have attempted to downplay any potential tensions with the governing coalition. They say they will work with the Israeli government by focusing on shared issues and not the personalities of government ministers, which include homophobic right-wing hardliners.

Deri, Herzog promise religious freedom won’t be cramped by new government

Appearing at an annual Christmas/New Years reception for Church leaders in Israel straight from the swearing-in of Israel’s 37th government, new Interior Minister Aryeh Deri promises that the government will protect religious freedom, and “will work for all citizens, regardless of religion, race, and sex.”

“As interior minister, I promise to continue helping the Arab community in Israel as I’ve done for decades,” he says at the President’s Residence event.

President Isaac Herzog says freedom of religion and the rights of minorities will always be protected in Israel. “This commitment goes beyond politics,” he says. “It goes to the very heart of who we are as a Jewish and democratic state.”

Herzog singles out Christian communities in Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza, saying, “All of these communities deserve to prosper and flourish, and to practice their faith fully and freely.”

Ben Gvir says he will visit Temple Mount as minister, but mellows on other stances

Newly installed minister Itamar Ben Gvir says he will visit the Temple Mount as minister, potentially tossing a match into one on the region’s most flammable issues.

“I will go up onto the Temple Mount. I don’t need a coalition agreement for that. It is clear, I am against racism on the Temple Mount,” he tells Kan news.

The far-right politician, who has pushed for an increased Jewish presence on the Temple Mount, has maintained his right to visit the holy site, ignoring warnings that doing so as minister could inflame tensions with Palestinians and with Amman, which has said that such a move could have serious implications.

New Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has chided lawmakers in the past for visiting the site without coordinating their moves with authorities.

Speaking to Channel 12 news, the new national security minister says he will work for all Israelis, seeking to soften his hardline image, but also sticks to his guns on the sensitive issue of visits to the Temple Mount.

“We came to serve everyone. I will be a minister for everyone. For Jews and Arabs, who are suffering too, from crime,” he tells Channel 12 news.

Asked about his support for anti-LGBTQ legislation, he notes his friendship with new Knesset speaker Amir Ohana, the first openly gay lawmaker to hold the post.

“Nobody wants to exclude anyone, not LGBTQ, nobody,” he says.

Pressed about his push to repeal legislation banning racists from the Knesset, he argues that the law needs to be fixed so it is employed fairly against Jews and Arabs both, claiming that he is “against racism.”

He refuses to say if he is seeking to pave a way back for his former political partners whose candidacies were banned due to their racist stances.

Swearing-in ceremony ends as Netanyahu’s staff starts to move into Prime Minister’s Office

Benjamin Netanyahu’s office says it has started to move from the office of the opposition chief to the Prime Minister’s Office.

The new ministers of Israel’s 37th government have all been sworn in now, and today’s Knesset session has ended.

Netanyahu formally becomes PM for 6th term; Lapid leaves plenum without handshake

Benjamin Netanyahu takes the oath and becomes prime minister, beginning his sixth term.

His wife Sara stands and applauds from the Knesset gallery, where his son Yair records the moment on his phone.

Netanyahu is embraced by new Knesset speaker Amir Ohana.

Netanyahu’s predecessor Yair Lapid subsequently leaves the plenum without shaking his hand.

Netanyahu takes his seat in the front row of the Knesset facing the podium, where Lapid was seated until a short time ago.

The rest of the incoming ministers are currently being sworn in one by one.

Among them is Ron Dermer, a former Israeli ambassador to the US and a close aide to Netanyahu.

Dermer, who is not an MK, who has been appointed Minister for Strategic Affairs.

Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer, a former Israeli ambassador to the US, swears in at the Knesset on December 29, 2022 (Knesset channel screenshot)

Knesset votes to approve Israel’s 37th government, Netanyahu’s 6th term

Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu swears in Israel’s 37th government, promising that his right-religious coalition will deliver political stability after five back-to-back elections rocked the country since 2019.

Confidence in the government is confirmed by 63 of the 64 coalition members (United Torah Judaism MK Ya’akov Tesler is overseas), with 54 against, in the 120-seat Knesset.

At a combined 15 years over two previous stints in the country’s leadership, Netanyahu is Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. This will be his sixth government, and by allying his right-wing Likud with far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties, it will be his — and the country’s — most hardline to date.

According to coalition agreements signed between Likud and each of its five allied parties, as well as the government’s published guiding principles, the incoming government will prioritize comprehensive judicial reform, striking at the heart of the balance between political and judicial powers, as well as the expansion of settlements and possible West Bank annexation, combating the cost of living, and further centralizing ultra-Orthodox control over state Jewish services.

Speaking to the Knesset plenum before the swearing-in, Netanyahu presented three top priorities for his new government: stopping Iran’s nuclear program, developing state infrastructure — with an emphasis on connecting the so-called periphery to the center of the country — and restoring internal security and governance to Israel.

Many ministries have been split, repackaged, scheduled for ministerial rotation, had pieces cleaved off or appended, and several have more than one minister under their purview. Only five of 31 ministers are women.

Netanyahu loyalist Amir Ohana becomes Knesset speaker, 1st openly LGBTQ MK to hold role

Shortly before the confidence vote to inaugurate Israel’s 37th government, the Knesset elects Likud MK Amir Ohana as its next speaker.

A former justice minister and public security minister in past governments, Ohana is the Knesset’s first openly gay speaker.

He thanks Netanyahu for his “courage and trust” in advancing his candidacy, and says he and Netanyahu have “traveled a long way together” and “will, with God’s help, continue further.”

He thanks his parents — who are in the gallery — for accepting him “for who I am.”

And he thanks his partner, Alon Haddad, “the second half of my life for almost 18 years,” who is also in the gallery with their children.

Alon Haddad, partner of new Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, and their children listen to Ohana’s speech from the Knesset gallery, December 29, 2022 (Knesset channel screenshot)

Ohana says that the incoming coalition won’t infringe upon LGBTQ rights.

Directing the comments to his family, he says “this Knesset, under the leadership of this speaker, won’t hurt them or any other family, period.”

Several of Likud’s far-right and ultra-Orthodox partners — including the openly homophobic Noam party — have expressed anti-LGBTQ positions, including declared plans to return now-banned conversion therapy, and changing governmental forms to say “mother” and “father” instead of gender-neutral “parent.”

Ohana’s selection was clinched yesterday, when Likud faction members chose him in an internal vote to succeed outgoing speaker Yariv Levin, who held the post in an interim role for only two weeks.

Levin, a former Knesset speaker and a trusted Netanyahu ally, took up the post to oversee a three-part legislative blitz preceding the swearing-in, and vacated the role earlier today to become justice minister.

One of the legislature’s most strategic positions, the Knesset speaker holds considerable influence over legislative agenda and pace, as well as running legislative sessions and maintaining decorum in the plenum.

Netanyahu taps Likud’s May Golan as deputy minister in Prime Minister’s Office

Incoming prime minister taps Likud MK May Golan as deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office in charge of “national missions.”

Netanyahu says Golan will hold the position “at this stage,” meaning it might be subject to change.

Cohen said set to serve as foreign minister for a year, followed by 2 years for Israel Katz

Hebrew media reports that in an apparent compromise, Likud MK Eli Cohen will only serve as foreign minister for one year, followed by two years for fellow Likud MK Israel Katz, and then another year for Cohen.

When not serving as foreign minister, each of them will serve as energy minister.

The unusual arrangement comes after Katz rejected a two-year rotation, fearing the incoming government wouldn’t last two years, according to Channel 12 news.

Finance Minister Israel Katz holds a press conference at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem on July 1, 2020.
(Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Yesh Atid MK confronts right-wing activist, tears down ‘Leftist traitors’ banner

As thousands of center-left protesters rally outside the Knesset against the incoming government, video footage shows Yesh Atid MK Boaz Toporovsky walking up to a one-man counterprotest and tearing down a banner reading “Leftist traitors.”

The footage shows Toporovsky causing the banner to fall despite police forces trying to prevent him from doing so.

This is followed by intense verbal confrontations between Toporovsky and other Yesh Atid MKs and right-wing activist Moshe Meron, with the cops separating them.

Avi Maoz says he isn’t targeting LGBTQ individuals, claims media ‘demonizing’ him

Noam party leader Avi Maoz speaks at the Knesset plenum ahead of becoming a deputy minister in charge of a “Jewish identity” body. He claims recent reports about his party making lists of gay media professionals and “leftist” Justice Ministry staff are no more than an attempt by the media to “defame, demonize and shame” him.

The Yedioth Ahronoth daily last week published the lists prepared by the anti-LGBTQ party in 2019 as an internal document, sparking widespread condemnation.

Maoz claims he has nothing against individual LGBTQ people and is only acting against “LGBT-ism as an agenda and as a political movement,” as well as against left-wing ideology rather than individual leftists.

This, he says, is why he will soon vote in favor of openly gay Likud MK Amir Ohana’s appointment as Knesset speaker.

Maoz says the media is “purposefully and maliciously trying to portray me as someone who is fighting against certain individuals. As if Stalinist cleansings are about to start, or at least McCarthyist persecution. Of course, reality is the complete opposite.”

The lists “are merely lecture materials gathered from news websites to show the influence in various public systems,” he says.

2 lightly hurt as Molotov cocktails thrown at bus in East Jerusalem

Two people are lightly hurt after a Molotov cocktail is hurled at a bus in East Jerusalem, medics say.

According to the Magen David Adom ambulance service, the driver of the bus and a passenger are hurt in the incident on Martin Buber Street.

They are being taken to the Hadassah Mount Scopus hospital by MDA.

There is no immediate comment from police on the incident.

Israeli ambassador to France Yael German resigns in protest of incoming government

Israel’s Ambassador to France Yael German, a Yair Lapid ally, sends a letter to incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu announcing that she is resigning from her post in Paris. She has also notified the Foreign Ministry of her decision.

After noting she has been proud to represent Israel under the outgoing government — which she says was based on “democracy, human rights, and the rule of law” — German accuses Netanyahu and his government of violating the principles of Israel’s Declaration of Independence and the vision of a Jewish and democratic state.

“Sadly,” German writes, “the government you established and lead includes representatives of parties whose extreme positions are expressed in its guidelines, in its policies, and in statements on legislation — illegitimate legislation in my eyes — it intends to pass.”

She adds that she is unable “to lie to myself and continue to represent policies that are so radically different from what I believe in.”

German, who started her political career in the left-wing Meretz Party, entered the Knesset with Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party in 2013 and served as health minister from 2013 to 2014.

Lapid, as foreign minister, appointed German as ambassador in 2021, which was met with some dismay, as she does not speak native-level French.

Netanyahu taps Yossi Shelley as PMO director, Yossi Fuchs as chief of staff

Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu taps former diplomat and public official Yossi Shelley as director general of the Prime Minister’s Office.

Shelley is a former ambassador to Brazil and a former Beersheba Municipality director-general. He is also a Netanyahu confidante.

His office also says attorney Yossi Fuchs, who ran on the Likud party’s slate in last month’s election but didn’t make it into the Knesset, will be Netanyahu’s chief of staff.

After presenting government, Netanyahu adds Likud’s Gamliel as intelligence minister

After presenting his incoming government to the Knesset, Benjamin Netanyahu announces that Likud MK Gila Gamliel will serve as intelligence minister.

This brings the total number of ministers in the government to 31, of whom five are women. Thirty will be sworn in today, while the Knesset will vote on Monday to approve Gamliel’s appointment.

Knesset set to vote on tapping Amir Ohana as speaker; government swear-in to follow

The Knesset plenum will soon vote on Likud MK Amir Ohana’s appointment as Knesset speaker.

After that, the ministers and deputy ministers of Israel’s 37th government will be sworn in, kicking off Benjamin Netanyahu’s sixth term as prime minister.

At year’s end, Israel’s population stands at 9,656,000; 178,000 babies born in 2022

As 2022 comes to an end, some 9,656,000 people live in Israel, according to an estimate published by the Central Bureau of Statistics.

Of them, 7,106,000 (73.6%) are Jewish, 2,037,000 (21.1%) are Arab, and 513,000 are defined as “others,” including non-Arab Christians, members of other faiths and those listed as not belonging to any religion.

The past year has seen some 178,000 babies born, 74.8% of them to Jewish mothers and 23.8% to Arab mothers.

About 73,000 new immigrants arrived, 58.1% of them from Russia and 21.3% from Ukraine — the direct effect of Moscow’s invasion of its neighbor. In 2021, the number of immigrants was about a third of that, 25,000.

1,000 protesters rally outside Knesset, vowing to ‘banish darkness’ of new government

Around a thousand people are now protesting outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, including lawmakers from the incoming opposition, ahead of the swearing-in of Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline government.

The center-left demonstrators call out chants against racism and corruption and in favor of peace, promising to “banish the darkness.”

“Bibi and Ben Gvir are destroying democracy,” says one sign, referring to Netanyahu and his senior partner Itamar Ben Gvir of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party.

Israelis protest with a Pride flag outside the Knesset ahead of a swearing-in ceremony of the new government, in Jerusalem, December 29, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/FLASH90)

Many wave Israel flags and Pride flags.

Protesters include organizers of regular anti-Netanyahu protests from his previous term, as well as many rights groups and dovish and liberal organizations, including the Reform Movement.

Lapid: I’m handing over power ‘with an unquiet heart’; full normalization with Saudis is close

In his final Knesset address as prime minister, Yair Lapid begins by saying he is handing over the baton of governance “with an unquiet heart.”

He then says he will detail his government’s achievements, “to prevent a rewriting of history.”

He talks of successes in the struggle against Iran’s march to the bomb, including thwarting international efforts to reach a new deal with the regime, and direct efforts against Iran “in Syria and beyond.”

He cites deepened ties with Israel’s Abraham Accords partners, with the opening of embassies in the UAE, Morocco, and Bahrain; Israel’s maritime deal with Lebanon; its successes against terror groups in Gaza, and its ongoing, intensive operation against terror groups in the West Bank. He notes that he signed the Jerusalem Declaration with US President Joe Biden, and deepened Israel’s ties with the US, and did not agree to the opening of an American consulate in East Jerusalem.

He says his government started a dialogue with the Saudis, the first step of which will be overflights and direct flights to Mecca for the Haj. Overall, he says, his government has “laid the foundations for full Saudi Arabian accession to the Abraham Accords.”

“The full classified details” of the progress in this regard will be handed over to the incoming prime minister, he says. “If the new government continues on the path we’ve set,” he says, “full normalization” with the Saudis can be obtained “in a not long time.”

Says Lapid: “We are transferring a country to you in excellent condition. With a strong economy, with improved security capabilities and powerful deterrence, with some of the best international standing ever. Try not to ruin it, we’ll be back soon,” he adds.

Netanyahu heckled during speech; sets out goals of stopping Iran, fighting crime, developing periphery

Before presenting his government to the Knesset, incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu presents his agenda to the Knesset plenum, outlining three big missions for his coalition: stopping Iran’s nuclear program, developing state infrastructure — with an emphasis on connecting the so-called periphery to the center of the country — and restoring internal security and governance to Israel.

Netanyahu welcomes notables, including incoming Knesset speaker Amir Ohana and his partner Alon Haddad — a deliberate move given criticism of anti-LGBTQ statements and legislative proposals by far-right parties in his incoming coalition.

Netanyahu also says that his government will combat the rising cost of living and improve education.

His opening remarks are interrupted by prolonged chants of “Weak! Weak!” from the incoming opposition benches, starting a minutes-long back-and-forth that results in the ejection of several Yesh Atid lawmakers and others.

Turning to their benches, Netanyahu accuses opposition lawmakers of not accepting the results of the November 1 general election.

“Knesset members, I don’t have to hear your shouts to know we have some disagreements,” Netanyahu says, “but some things we agree upon.”

“Losing elections isn’t the end of democracy — it’s the essence of democracy,” he says. “In a democracy, we don’t climb the fences of the Capitol, and we don’t climb the fences of the Knesset.”

Ending his remarks by donning a kippa and reciting the shehecheyanu prayer on a new beginning, Netanyahu then introduces his 30-plus-member government.

Former envoy to US Dermer named strategic affairs minister

Benjamin Netanyahu names former ambassador to the US Ron Dermer as strategic affairs minister.

He also names Likud MK Yoav Kisch as regional cooperation minister, a role Kisch will assume in addition to those of education minister and coordinator between the government and the Knesset.

Likud MK Israel Katz is named energy minister, after lobbying and failing to get the foreign minister post.

Likud’s Eli Cohen to be foreign minister in new government

Likud MK Eli Cohen will be foreign minister, his spokesman says.

Hebrew media says that if fellow Likud MK Israel Katz agrees to go second in a rotation deal, he will replace Cohen in two years. If he doesn’t, Cohen will be minister for the entire term.

WATCH: Special Knesset session to swear in new Netanyahu government kicks off

The Knesset session in which Benjamin Netanyahu will present his new government has begun.

Here is a live feed from the session (in Hebrew):

Lawmakers are set to hold a debate over the next few hours, after which a new Knesset speaker will be selected — Likud’s Amir Ohana — and the ministers of the 37th government will be sworn in.

Hundreds hold protest outside Knesset as government to be sworn in

Hundreds of people are holding a protest outside the Knesset in Jerusalem against the government set to be sworn in today, the most hardline in Israel’s history.

Hebrew media outlets estimate that some 300 people are taking place in the rally.

A series of center-left bodies organized protests outside the parliament building today, during the hours in which Benjamin Netanyahu will again become prime minister and his new ministers will be sworn in.

Lapid in farewell post: ‘This isn’t the end, we’ll be back’

Set to be replaced later today by Benjamin Netanyahu, outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid pens a farewell post on Facebook, promising to return to the role.

“Citizens of Israel, thanks for the last year and a half,” he writes, referring to his year as alternate prime minister under Naftali Bennett and his six months as premier.

“This isn’t the end, this is the beginning of the struggle for our beloved country. We are fighting for the future of our kids and we won’t stop until we topple the government of destruction, and return.”

אזרחי ישראל, תודה על השנה וחצי האחרונות. זה לא סיום, זה תחילת המאבק על המדינה האהובה שלנו. אנחנו נלחמים על עתיד הילדים שלנו ולא נעצור עד שנפיל את ממשלת ההרס, ונחזור.

Posted by ‎Yair Lapid – יאיר לפיד‎ on Wednesday, December 28, 2022

What to expect: The schedule for today’s government swearing-in

Here’s a rough schedule of the dramatic day ahead in the Knesset, in which Benjamin Netanyahu is set to resume his longtime role as prime minister after being replaced 18 months ago.

11 a.m. (all times are Israel time, GMT+2): Netanyahu and outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid will kick off a pre-swearing-in session in the Knesset plenum.

2 p.m. The Knesset will hold a vote on appointing Likud MK Amir Ohana as Knesset speaker.

Shortly after the Knesset speaker vote, the 120 Knesset members will vote on swearing in Israel’s 37th government.

After that, the government will be sworn in.

The ceremony is expected to wrap up by 5 p.m.

Ukraine reports ‘massive’ Russian missile attack

Ukraine has been hit with “massive” Russian missile strikes across the country, including in the capital Kyiv, the military says.

“December 29. Massive missiles attack… The enemy is attacking Ukraine from various directions with air and sea-based cruise missiles from strategic aircraft and ships,” Ukraine’s air force says on social media.

Bomb found at entrance to Holon home, defused by police

Police neutralize a bomb that was placed at the entrance to a residential building in the Tel Aviv suburb of Holon.

No casualties are reported in the incident, which police say is not terror-related.

Passersby are said to have alerted police to the suspicious object on Golomb Street.

Netanyahu yet to name foreign minister; Likud’s Barkat, Distel Atbaryan, Chikli get roles

Hours before Israel swears in its 37th government, incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has yet to announce who his foreign minister will be.

Rumored to be in the running for the job are Likud MKs Israel Katz and Eli Cohen, as well as former ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer.

Most other ministerial appointments have been announced, although still vacant are the posts of energy minister, regional cooperation minister, intelligence minister and strategic affairs minister. Besides that, additional appointments could be announced if Netanyahu decides to tap lawmakers as ministers within an existing ministry.

That happened this morning, when he said Likud loyalist Galit Distel Atbaryan would be a minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, with yet-undisclosed responsibilities.

Also in recent hours, Likud’s Nir Barkat was announced as the next economy and industry minister.

Late last night, Likud MK Amichai Chikli, who defected from Yamina last year, was announced as the incoming minister of Diaspora affairs and social equality.

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