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New government poses with Rivlin before getting down to brass tacks

Incoming leaders take reins at a flurry of ceremonies and meetings, setting policy goals and taking fire from former ministers now in opposition

Ministers in the newly sworn-in Israeli government pose for the traditional group photo at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on June 14, 2021. (Emmanuel Dunand / AFP)
Ministers in the newly sworn-in Israeli government pose for the traditional group photo at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on June 14, 2021. (Emmanuel Dunand / AFP)

Israel’s new ruling coalition got ready for the business of governance Monday morning, taking fire from the opposition and laying out policy plans, but first gathering at the official residence of President Reuven Rivlin for a group photo.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid and over two dozen ministers lined up for a traditional picture alongside the outgoing president at Rivlin’s residence in Jerusalem, kicking off their first full day manning the rudder of state Monday.

The government, a coalition of eight parties from the right, center and left, won a Knesset vote of confidence on Sunday, removing Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu from power after 12 years.

There were no official statements at the photo session, a time-honored tradition that will be one of the last major official acts by Rivlin, who leaves office on July 7.

New Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett waves at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on June 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Bennett, who visited the grave of his friend Lt. Col. Emmanuel Moreno in Jerusalem following the ceremony, met Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office later Monday for an official handover of powers.

Naftali Bennett visiting the grave of Lt. Col. Emmanuel Moreno at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem on June 14, 2021. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

However, a statement from Netanyahu’s bureau made clear that the outgoing premier would not partake in a traditional symbolic handover ceremony. The Likud head, who is set to be the opposition leader, has continued to assail the new government and has accused Bennett of defrauding voters and stealing the election by teaming up with Lapid and other parties from the center and left to form the coalition.

The government is expected to face its first major test on Tuesday with the holding of a nationalist flag march in Jerusalem on Tuesday. Bennett, Lapid and Public Security Minister Omer Barlev were to hold a meeting on the powder keg march following the photo op with Rivlin.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (L) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on June 14, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The parade, targeted by Hamas rockets on May 10, was rescheduled by the previous government, pending police approval. Hamas has threatened to open a new round of hostilities over the march, but Bennett will likely face pressure from his right-wing constituency to allow it to go ahead, the first of what are expected to be many potential fissures faced by the broad coalition.

At a Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting Monday, incoming Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman alluded to issues the coalition may face in keeping its various unwieldy parts together, after MK Eli Avidar signaled a day earlier he could split off from the party.

Avigdor Liberman arrives to a group photo of the newly sworn in Israeli government at the president’s residence in Jerusalem on June 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

“In politics, nobody promises you a rose garden. There are misunderstandings, and mistakes, that’s natural,” he said. “But now and yesterday during the vote too we are one piece, sometimes getting along, sometimes arguing, sometimes it will come to blows, but it does not matter, we are one piece.”

Liberman also aimed a shot at his political rivals from the ultra-Orthodox parties, expressing hopes that “God willing, the ultra-Orthodox will spend much time in the opposition.”

At a handover ceremony for the Housing and Construction Ministry, outgoing minister Yaakov Litzman of UTJ took aim at the new coalition, calling it a “car wreck.”

“It’s government of Reform [Jews], of allowing civil marriages, all the bad things, all the curses of the Torah… I hope we won’t be here too long and there will be elections soon.”

At a handover ceremony alongside Shas leader Aryeh Deri, who said he would work to bring down the government, new Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said she would redouble efforts to deport African migrants, many of whom are seeking asylum in Israel.

Newly appointed Interior Minister, Ayelet Shaked seen with outgoing Minister Aryeh Deri, at a ceremony for replacing of minister, held at the Interior Ministry in Jerusalem on June 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

“I will act to return infiltrators to their homelands, and to encourage voluntary migration to safe third countries,” she said, using a term preferred by nationalists to refer to Africans in the country without a legal status.

She called the effort a “strategic matter.”

The government was backed by eight of the 13 parties that won seats in the March 23 election, for a total of 60 votes in the 120-member Knesset: Yesh Atid (17 seats), Blue and White (8), Yisrael Beytenu (7), Labor (7), Yamina (6 of its 7 MKs), New Hope (6), Meretz (6) and Ra’am (3 of its 4 MKs).

Late Sunday, the new coalition held its first cabinet meeting, with party leaders calling for “restraint” and “trust” to ensure the survival of the fledgling government.

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