Benjamin Netanyahu made a dramatic comeback as Israeli prime minister on Thursday, after being sworn in as head of what will likely be the country’s most right-wing government in history.
Netanyahu and his government were sworn in Thursday for his sixth term as prime minister, 18 months after he was ousted from power.
He returns with the backing of several far-right figures once relegated to the fringes of Israeli politics, having cobbled together a coalition shortly before last week’s deadline.
Members of Netanyahu’s Likud party will hold some of the most senior cabinet posts, including foreign minister, defense minister and justice minister.
But a number of far-right politicians from Israel’s political spectrum were set to be appointed to cabinet posts, despite controversy over their positions in the run-up to the November elections, which were won by an ultra -nationalists and ultra-religious parties.
Itamar Ben Gvir, an extremist who was convicted of supporting terrorism and inciting anti-Arab racism, will take on a newly expanded role in public security, renamed national security minister, overseeing police in Israel as well as some police activities in the occupied West Bank.
Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionism party, was named finance minister and also given the power to appoint the head of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), an Israeli military unit which, among its functions, manages the border crossings and permits for Palestinians.
During his campaign, Smotrich had proposed a series of drastic legal reforms, seen by many critics as a clear way to undermine judicial independence. That includes dropping the ability to charge an official with fraud and breach of trust — a charge Netanyahu faces in his ongoing corruption trial.
Netanyahu pleaded not guilty and called the trial a “witch hunt” and “attempted coup,” and called for changes to Israel’s justice system.
Aryeh Deri, leader of the Sephardic ultra-Orthodox Shas party, will serve as interior minister and health minister.
As new ministers prepared to be sworn in to the Knesset, the country’s parliament, around 2,000 demonstrators gathered outside to protest Netanyahu’s return to power, the police spokesman said. Jerusalem.
The Israeli government’s rightward shift has raised eyebrows abroad and at home. On Wednesday, more than 100 retired Israeli ambassadors and Foreign Ministry officials voiced concerns about Israel’s new government in a signed letter to Netanyahu.
The ex-diplomats, including former ambassadors to France, India and Turkey, expressed their “deep concern at the serious damage caused to Israel’s foreign relations, its international position and its fundamental interests in the foreigner emanating from what will apparently be the policy of the new government. ”
The letter highlighted “statements made by potential senior government and Knesset officials,” reports of policy changes in the West Bank and “certain possible extreme and discriminatory laws” as an area of concern.
US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides praised Netanyahu on Thursday, writing on Twitter: “This is the strong US-Israeli relationship and unbreakable ties.” Nides is married to Virginia Moseley, CNN US executive vice president for editorial.
A spokesman for the National Security Council noted that Netanyahu has “said repeatedly that he will set the policy of his government” as he enters into a coalition with far-right parties.
“As we have made clear, we do not support policies that endanger the viability of a two-state solution or contradict our mutual interests and values,” the spokesperson said.
Biden administration officials have largely avoided addressing the far-right components of Israel’s new government. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week that the United States “will engage with and judge our partners in Israel based on the policies they pursue, not the figures who form the government.”
Netanyahu’s narrow victory in November came in Israel’s fifth election in less than four years, amid a period of protracted political chaos in which he has remained a dominant figure.
In his address to the Knesset on Thursday, Netanyahu said that of the three main tasks assigned to his government, the first will be to “thwart Iran’s efforts to obtain nuclear weapons.” The second priority would be to develop the country’s infrastructure, including the launch of a high-speed train and the third would be to sign more peace agreements with Arab nations “in order to end the Arab-Israeli conflict”.
Netanyahu was already Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, having held the post from 2009 to 2021 and before that during one term in the late 1990s.
Israel also had its first openly gay speaker on Thursday. Amir Ohana, a former justice and public security minister, is a member of the Knesset and represents Netanyahu’s Likud party.
Some ultra-Orthodox MKs who refused to attend his Knesset swearing-in ceremony seven years ago were among those who voted for him on Thursday.
Ahead of the parliamentary vote on the new government, outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid tweeted: “We are passing you a state in excellent shape. Try not to spoil it, we’ll be right back. The handover files are ready.
With additional reporting by Kareem El Damanhoury