The first order of business for the Knesset was to hear speeches from a range of speakers - the leaders of the different parties - of both the outgoing government and the incoming administration. The designated order was that Naftali Bennett, the incoming Prime Minister would speak first, followed by Prime Minister Netanyahu, the outgoing Prime Minister.
Bennett was invited to go first. He had prepared a very carefully written speech - professional, conciliatory, stately and dignified. But Netanyahu's supporters had other plans. They had apparently decided that they would use every possible method to disrupt the speech. They hurled insults, abusive language and consistently disrupted the speech. The House Speaker, who himself is a handpicked Netanyahu designate, had no choice but to start warning Knesset members that he would throw them out of the Knesset if they continued. Soon he had to start ordering the removal of various Knesset members from the Religious Zionist Party, the Likud Party and the Ultra-Religious parties. Frankly, it was embarrassing, childish and highly inappropriate. At least 5 or 6 Knesset members had to be forcibly removed because they couldn't follow the basic decorum of listening to a speech from a political opponent. One Israeli commentator said that it was as if those who had stormed the Capital in the U.S. were actually the congress members and senators inside the Knesset. It was simply disgraceful.
Bennett's speech was disrupted several times but he still managed to give it. He thanked Netanyahu for his years of service and for many positive accomplishments. But he also spoke about the urgency of doing things differently, of working with people with opposing viewpoints, and of addressing many urgent issues facing the country. He promised to try and work on behalf of all Israelis, even those who opposed him. He mentioned that Israel may have disagreements with the United States on some issues - but he promised to work with the United States administration respectfully and work to return to a situation where support for Israel is bi-partisan in the U.S. rather than partisan. He laid out some of the government's proposed platforms and he introduced by name all of the incoming cabinet members. He ended his speech by reciting the "prayer for the State of Israel" which is recited in synagogues around the world. It was an emotional moment.
Yair Lapid was supposed to speak next. After watching all of the disruption, he decided to cut his speech short. He stood up and said that he had brought his 87 year old mother to Jerusalem (she rarely comes to Jerusalem) to see how a peaceful transition of power works in Israel, a country that did not exist when she was born. He said she told him that she was simply embarrassed by the behaviour of the opposition Knesset members but she also said - that this conduct by Netanyahu's supporters in the Knesset demonstrated why a change of government was so urgently needed. Lapid said that was all he was going to say at this time and he sat down.
Next it was Netanyahu's turn. He was allotted the longest time period as the outgoing Prime Minister. Netanyahu began his speech, shockingly, by quoting the lead prosecutor in the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann and claiming that he was standing here on behalf of the "millions" (in Netanyahu's case - the "millions" who had voted for him but would not have him as a leader). This was an outrageous misuse of historical context - to suggest that the incoming government was a horrible and tragic event on the scale of the Holocaust.
Netanyahu then proceeded with a review of the many accomplishments of his government, for which he took all of the credit personally. Some of this review was partially accurate, some was slanted and some was outright misleading. For example, he noted that Israel is in a far better security situation today than it was 12 years ago. That is probably true. He claimed that his government had dramatically decreased the "gaps" and "inequalities" in Israeli society. That is patently false. He claimed that his government did more than any previous Israeli government to support the Arab Israeli community. That is questionable and probably not accurate, even though at times the Netanyahu government invested significant amounts in certain Arab communities. His tone was combative, irascible and condescending. This was only the first part of the speech and just the beginning.
For the second part, Netanyahu switched to a litany of attacks on the incoming government and, in particular, on Bennett personally. This part of the speech was simply a page from the Trump playbook. He insulted, derided and castigated his political opponents and this deal to create the new government in particular. He used nicknames to make fun of certain Knesset members. He stated that "unlike what has taken place in some places, he is not challenging the legitimacy of the actual ballots - they were counted properly." But he is challenging the fraudulent misuse of the ballots by Bennett - who took right wing ballots and turned them improperly into a left wing government. He quoted Arnold Scwarznegger stating "I'll be back" and promised that it would be a lot quicker than anyone expects. He did not wish the new government success or provide any kind words for the incoming government or any of its members. Instead, he simply promised to bring down the government as quickly as possible, with "God's help." I can't say this speech was unexpected though I think some were a bit surprised at the complete lack of any hint of statesmanship or professionalism.
There was then a break for a few hours. During this time, the tv commentators reviewed and assessed both speeches. Even the right wing commentators were somewhat taken aback at the conduct of the disruptive Knesset members during Bennett's speech. In the meantime, Bennett announced plans to go to the Kotel for a special blessing after being sworn in. At the same time, the Religious Zionist party and the Ultra Orthodox parties announced organized demonstrations at the Kotel and special prayers for the "downfall of the government." We can clearly see that there will be rocky times ahead and it will be fascinating to see if this new government can hold things together.
There are definitely several concerns about the new government. It is comprised of far right wing parties, far left wing parties, centrist parties along with an Arab Israeli party. They will have lots of disagreements and they only have a razor thin margin of 61-59 to run the country. If two Knesset members defect, the government will collapse.
Furthermore, there are genuine and legitimate complaints about the incoming Prime Minister Bennett. His party only had 6 seats. He had promised his voters, in writing, that he would not join a government with Lapid, even a rotation government. He also promised that he would not sit in a government that worked with the Arab parties. Many of his supporters are understandably upset and I can see that there was no reason that he should have been so unequivocal with his promises if he had no intention of keeping them. In short, it is true that he deceived his voters.
At the same time, most politicians tend to make all sorts of promises that they are often unable to keep. Netanyahu also made a list of promises and broke many of them. Bennett has insisted that, overall, the deal he has made involves a variety of compromises, all with a view to the best interests of the country at this point in time. I think many Israelis will be prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, at least for some period of time.
Changing Of the Speaker of the House
After a significant delay, the Knesset was recalled for the next order of business - the vote for a new speaker of the house. The vote was held and Mickey Levy of the Yesh Atid party won with 67 votes (61 required for a majority). For a bit, the outcome was uncertain, but in the end the candidate of the change coalition was elected the new speaker of the house. The outgoing speaker, Yariv Levine, in contrast to Netanyahu, was statesmanlike and professional. He wished Levy the best of luck, shook his hand and said a few words about his own departure. It was a welcome change of tone.
Voting in the New Government
Shortly afterwards, the full Knesset was invited to vote on the new government. There was some tension since the government is being implemented with a 61-59 majority. No wiggle room at all. As the votes came in, there were 3 initial abstentions. The vote sat at 60-56. The speaker, of course, only votes in the event of a tie. The speaker asked if there were any missing votes. Three Arab members changed their votes from "abstain" to against and the vote was now 60-59. But that was it. The vote was called and the speaker announced that Naftali Bennett is Israel's new Prime Minister.
Swearing In of the Ministers
The final step was the swearing in of the Prime Minister and the cabinet ministers. Each person comes up and repeats, according to a set formula - which starts with "I, (full name), the son or daughter of (full name) and then either "may he/she live many more years in good health" or "of blessed memory" followed by the other parent's name. It is incredibly emotional. Some of the ministers were lucky to have parents and family members in attendance. Others thought of their deceased parent or other family members as they took the oath and mentioned their names. The cabinet features a wide range of members from 8 different parties. Some of these parties have not been a part of any Israeli government for many years. It was quite a sight.
Conclusions for Now
In some parts of Israel, people are celebrating, especially in Tel-Aviv. There are many Israelis hoping that this new government will usher in a wide range of changes in many different areas. Other Israelis are extremely upset and are planning to hold demonstrations, prayer gatherings and other events calling for the end to this government.
This new government contains a large number of "right wing" members. I don't expect things to change very much with respect to relations with the Palestinians in the very near future. I would say that there is somewhat of a consensus on some of the issues in dispute - and some of the policies that Netanyahu has promulgated. For example, no Israeli government is going to be interested in negotiating the status of Jerusalem, discussing the settlement of Palestinian refugees in Israel or even negotiating a Palestinian state in the current climate. There may, however, be more of an openness to meet and try to restart some negotiations on these and other issues with a view to trying to resolve some or all of the ongoing conflict with Palestinians.
The real change, however, is that this government is the first one in a number of years without the two ultra-orthodox parties. That may well prove to be the biggest element of change in the "change" government Suddenly, the budget might change and religious educational institutions that do not support mandatory military recruitment may start finding themselves with significantly reduced budgets. Bennett promised to take away the monopoly over Kashrut from the Ultra-Orthodox and provide a wider range of options for Kashrut observers. There may well be a range of positive changes in Israeli society that affect gender equality, education, the environment and many other areas, all of which can be tackled without having to appease ultra-religious interests.
I really can't predict whether this government will be able to hold up and if so, how long it might last. The deal has been signed as a four year deal. But with a such a thin margin, it seems unlikely that this government will make it through the full four year term. But I suppose that is going to depend on what kind of priorities the government tackles and whether its actions are viewed favourably by the Israeli public, or at least a large part of it.
I do maintain and believe that there is a significant likelihood that we will see a much higher level of public discourse, respect within the government, cooperation, trust and a resolve to act in the public interest - all of which will be very different from the legacy that Netanyahu is leaving behind, particularly over the course of his final few years of this term in office.