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Right flank of change coalition lays low as Netanyahu backers fume at alliance

Politicians from Likud and Religious Zionism parties slam announcement of new government, aiming fire at Bennett; center-left celebrates, but Yamina and others stay mum

Israeli right-wing protesters chant slogans and hold flags during a demonstration against the forming of a new government in the central Israeli city of Ramat Gan, Wednesday, June 2, 2021. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)
Israeli right-wing protesters chant slogans and hold flags during a demonstration against the forming of a new government in the central Israeli city of Ramat Gan, Wednesday, June 2, 2021. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

Right wing supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decried the declaration of an apparent new government, aiming caustic opprobrium at Yamina head Naftali Bennett for linking up with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid.

While centrist and left-wing boosters of the so-called change coalition feted the news that the unlikely coalition of parties from opposite ends of the political spectrum had come together, with only a few remaining hurdles before it is sworn in, right-wing members of the new alliance appeared intent on downplaying who they were getting in bed with.

“The left is celebrating, but this is a sad day for Israel,” tweeted Miki Zohar, a senior Likud MK and close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Bennett, [New Hope head Gideon] Sa’ar and [Yamina No. 2 Ayelet] Shaked should be ashamed.”

Lapid on Wednesday night informed President Reuven Rivlin that he had mustered enough support to form a coalition, setting in motion a process that is expected to lead to Netanyahu’s ouster after 12 years in power. A coalition deal will see Bennett become arguably Israel’s most right-wing and pro-settlement prime minister ever, but will also see him allied with centrist and left-wing parties, as well as the Islamist Ra’am, drawing furious condemnation from right-wingers, Netanyahu allies and members of his own party.

Religious Zionism head Bezalel Smotrich, who has allied closely with Bennett in the past, accused the Yamina leader of having planned all along to join Lapid and oust Netanyahu at any cost. “This is what we split up over. What he knowingly lied about during the whole election campaign,” Smotrich fumed on Twitter.

Naftali Bennett (R) and Bezalel Smotrich of the right-wing Yamina party hold a press conference in Jerusalem on May 14, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The last several days have seen a series of angry rallies by activists opposed to the government, most of them seemingly focused on attempting to drive a wedge between Yamina and the rest of the coalition, which also includes right-wing parties Yisrael Beytenu and New Hope. At a rally outside the Ramat Gan hotel where negotiations were taking place Wednesday, protesters held up signs with a picture of Bennett and other Yamina MKs juxtaposed alongside pictures of Arab politicians Mansour Abbas and Ahmed Tibi.

“Don’t form a left-wing government with supporters of terror,” the signs read.

Israeli police officers stand guard as right wing protesters chant slogans and hold signs showing Naftali Bennett and other members of the Yamina party with Arab politicians Ahmad Tibi, right, and Mansour Abbas, left, during a demonstration in the central Israeli city of Ramat Gan, Wednesday, June 2, 2021. Hebrew sign reads, “Don’t form a left-wing government with supporters of terror.” (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

According to Channel 12, WhatsApp groups set up to rally support behind Yamina No. 2 Ayelet Shaked emptied out in droves once Lapid announced he had the coalition in hand.

Despite Lapid’s declaration, it remained unclear that the prospective change government will make it past the finish line. It is set to include 61 of the 120 MKs — the narrowest possible majority. And an MK from Bennett’s Yamina, Nir Orbach, earlier on Wednesday night announced he could vote against the new coalition, a move that could potentially doom the prospective razor-thin government.

Naftali Bennett, right, and Ayelet Shaked seen in the Knesset plenum during voting for the president in Jerusalem on June 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Neither Bennett nor Shaked released statements following Lapid’s announcement. Yamina released a short statement shortly after 1 a.m. saying that a meeting between Bennett and Orbach had gone well and the two would meet again.

Likewise, the leaders of right-wing parties New Hope and Yisrael Beytenu remained silent following the announcement, underlining the perceived awkwardness of their alliance with left-wing and Arab politicians whose policies they normally oppose.

Other members of the coalition were happier to celebrate the apparent victory.

Blue and White head Benny Gantz, on his way to Washington in his capacity as defense minister, praised the new government, in which he will once again ally with Lapid, whom he split off from last year in order to create a unity government with Netanyahu, a decision he later came to regret.

“This is a night of great hope. I congratulate my partners in the change bloc and wish great success for Israel,” he tweeted.

“Today, we succeeded. We made history,” Merav Michaeli, leader of the dovish Labor Party, told reporters.

“Congratulations to all of our partners in the new coalition,” tweeted Meretz head Nitzan Horowitz. “Long live the new government.”

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