After a month a half of political bloodletting, public condemnations, last minute crises, and a great many disappointed politicians, Israel finally has a new government, just in time for President Barack Obama’s visit today.
“I would like to thank the citizens of Israel for granting me the great privilege of leading them for a third time” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the beginning of his speech at the swearing-in at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.
The new government was sworn in yesterday with the support of a coalition of 68 Knesset Members (out of 120) and is currently comprised of Netanyahu and 22 ministers, making it one of the smallest governments Israel has had in several years.
Reducing the size of the government was one of the central demands of Yair Lapid, the head of the centrist Yesh Atid Party, who had originally demanded that there be no more than 18 ministers. Eventually, he compromised on 22 with the promise that the coalition will legislate that any future governments have no more than 18 ministers and 4 deputy ministers.
According to Ma’ariv, the current coalition agreement includes several other substantial changes to the status quo including legislation towards the drafting of Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) Yeshiva students, the de-funding of their Yeshivas and the imposition of a basic math, English, and history curriculum in Haredi schools.
While these changes are welcome among a majority of Israeli, these policies could never have been enacted in previous governments due to the opposition of the Haredi parties who were always in them.
Indeed, during Netanyahu’s speech, the members of the Haredi parties walked out of the Chamber calling out “a Jew does not shun another Jew”. According to Israel’s Channel 2, Knesset Member Moshe Gafni of the Yehadut Ha-Torah Party took the podium and criticized the coalition agreement as being “unprecedented in the Western World, in the Democratic World” and that “the agreements with Yesh Atid and the Jewish Home hurt the Haredim as no terrorist could”.
Comparing this coalition agreements to the infamous 1939 “White Paper,” which limited Jewish immigration to Mandatory Palestine, Gafni said that he will do what Rabbi Hertzog did with the White Paper and then proceeded to tear his copy of the coalition agreement.
The Haredi reaction to their sudden exclusion from the government has only worsened since it became clear that Netanyahu had no choice but to acquiesce to the demands of Lapid and Naftali Bennett, the chairman of the Jewish Home party. Bennett in particular has been the target of the Haredim since it was his alliance with Lapid which brought about their exclusion from the government.
However, the true reasons for the Haredi’s anger has more to do with the erosion of their power in the government and their influence with their voters. Lapid’s social reforms not only threaten to decrease their constituent’s “dependence on the public purse but, even more important, on the obscurantist and controlling rabbis who are determined to isolate their followers from Israeli society”, according to Yuval Elizur and Lawrence Malkin.
Netanyahu’s government was also criticized by Shelly Yachimovich, the chairperson of the Labor Party. “The leaders of the coalition parties are all capitalists”, said Yachimovich. “even with the best of intentions, this is an exclusionary government. It excludes most of the state’s citizens”.
Yachimovich too came under Haredi criticism, as her refusal to join Netanyahu’s government allowed Lapid and Bennet to exclude them.
However, there is no denying that this new government is a reflection of the change in the attitudes of Israelis. Where once foreign and security policy overrode all other concerns, the current Israeli electorate seems more concerned with domestic policy and this government has the best chance of making the changes required.