New Israeli government with liberalism at its core

Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Ed Davey MP meeting with Foreign Minister and Alternate Prime Minister MK Yair Lapid, with LDFI Hon. President and Chair, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill and Gavin Stollar respectively. (December 2020)

After four elections over two years, the Israeli people have a new government. The government, headed by Yamina MK Naftali Bennett and our friend Leader of the Yesh Atid, MK Yair Lapid, consists of the right, the left, the centre and an Israeli Arab party. This is an extraordinary achievement, with the government being put together by Lapid and his negotiating team. This national unity government has ended Benjamin Netanyahu’s second premiership, which has lasted over 12 years.

The government was formed yesterday after it passed a vote in the Knesset by the slimmest majority of 60 votes to 59. Prime Minister Bennett told his cabinet yesterday, “Now we must prove ourselves, and work together in unity and cooperation to mend the rift among the public and return the state to proper governance after debilitation brought by internal squabbles.”

Foreign Minister and Alternate PM Yair Lapid, reiterated Bennett’s message by saying, “What formed this government is friendship and trust, and what is going to maintain this government will be friendship and trust.”

Prior to the vote on the new coalition, the “change bloc”, as they were referred to before being confirmed as the new government, seized control of the legislative agenda in the Knesset by appointing Yesh Atid MK, Mickey Levy as Speaker of the Israeli parliament.

Who’s who in the new government?

Israel’s new government is Israel’s most progressive and ideologically diverse. It seems to represent all aspects of Israeli society, and will include eight parties: two centrist, three right-wing, two left-wing, and one Islamic.

  • It will have 28 ministers and six deputy ministers. For the first time in Israel’s history an Arab party will be included in the coalition.
  • For only the second time, there will be an Arab cabinet minister, as Issawi Frej from Meretz will serve as minister for regional cooperation.
  • The leader of the Islamist Ra’am party, Mansour Abbas, has been appointed Deputy Minister of Arab Affairs in the Prime Minister’s office.
  • There is also a record high of nine women who will serve as ministers, including Labour Party leader Merav Michaeli as Transportation Minster, Yifat Shasha-Biton from New Hope as the Minister of Education, and Ayelet Shaked, from Yamina, who will serve as Interior Minister.
  • There are also two gay ministers, including former model and lawyer, Yesh Atid’s Idan Roll, who has been made Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister. Yesh Atid MK, Karine Elharrar, who has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair, has been appointed Minister of National Infrastructures, Energy and Water Resources.

The new government has committed to pass a two-year budget within 145 days. To do this they will need a 61-vote majority, that they did not have yesterday.

Prime Minister Bennett also said yesterday, that the “coalition agreement bring to an end two and a half years of political stalemate. We face immense challenges and the eyes of all Israelis are watching us with hope. The government will work for the entire Israeli public — religious and secular, Haredim, Arabs — with no exceptions. We will work together, with a feeling a partnership and national responsibility, and I believe we will succeed”.

What do the government stand for?

  • Immediately the government has committed to establishing a state commission of inquiry into the Meron disaster, that saw 45 people crushed to death.
  • The new government’s priorities will be to build new hospitals in the Negev and Galilee regions, another airport and a university in the Galilee, and to push forward a national project for strengthening and developing northern Israel.
  • The status quo on state and religion will be maintained. However, the government will create competition in the field of kosher food certification. It will also move to alter the election process for the chief rabbinate to allow for a religious Zionist rabbi to be elected, which in turn could allow city rabbis to oversee conversions to Judaism.
  • Despite focusing on consensual issues there is a range of controversial issues that the new government will soon need to make decisions on. These include:
  • In what format to allow the right-wing to hold their March of the Flags rally through the Old City of Jerusalem tomorrow.
  • If they will allow the Qatari government to continue sending millions of dollars in cash into the Gaza Strip.
  • What to do about the newly formed illegal West Bank outpost of Evyatar, whilst at the same time legalising Bedouin villages in the south.
  • If they will weigh in on the potential evictions of Arab Jerusalemites in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.

This afternoon, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid gave his inaugural speech at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Please click here to read a Twitter thread of the key takeaway points from the speech.

There is a new government in Israel. At the heart of this government is Yair Lapid and Yesh Atid, our Zionist, liberal, centrist and secular friends. We wish them all the very best.

We also wanted to send our best wishes to Sarah Green, and look forward to seeing many of you in Chesham and Amersham this week for that final push to win the by-election there!

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