5/15/15 New government sworn in

by Marc Schulman

Even by the usually chaotic standards of Israeli politics, yesterday will go down as one of the most chaotic and unusual days in its 67 years. Israeli media were tripping over themselves to find the right words to characterize the day. In the end, most settled on the term “circus-like”. Yesterday marked five and half months since Prime Minister Netanyahu disbanded his last government, and it was almost the last day he could statutorily form a new government.

The Prime Minister had called for a special session of the parliament to meet at 7PM. Throughout the day the PM held marathon meetings with members of his own party, informing them of what roles they would play in the new government – (i.e. what cabinet posts they would hold.) Going into the marathon meeting Prime Minister Netanyahu was aware he would have a hard time. The Prime Minister had given away too many cabinet positions to his coalition partners, and it was clear he was not going to keep everyone happy. As the day wore on, the tension mounted, and when 7 o’clock approached, the Prime Minister asked for a three hour delay. The Knesset granted a two hour delay. As 9 PM neared, it was still not clear which members of the Likud were going to be in the government. However, there were rumors that the number 2 in the Likud party list (outgoing Interior Minister Gilad Erdan) would not be in the government. Over the course of the day, in attempts to satisfy members of his party, Prime Minister Netanyahu agreed to some strange cabinet appointment combinations – including assigning the powerful Transportation Minister the post of Intelligence Minister as well. When the political correspondent for Channel 10 news was asked – What is the connection between these two ministries? He deadpanned an answer on TV, stating that when you are in the central bus station and you need to know when your bus is leaving, you go to the Modi’in, (the Hebrew word for “intelligence”, doubles as the Israeli word for “information desk”.) He of course hurried to explain that there was no operational logic, just the need of the Prime Minister to honor his promisee to give Katz to accord him a more important position this time.

Finally, a little after 9 o’clock in the evening, the Knesset met and the Prime Minister gave a short speech. In the inaugural address of his fourth term as Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu did not lay out the goals of his new administration. Instead, the Prime Minister chose to attack the Israeli electoral system – blaming the system for how long it took him to form a government, and adamantly denouncing the system for forcing him to agree to so many coalition demands. In the address he called on MK Erdan to join his government, even though a few minutes later (when he announced the list of ministers) he left no portfolio to grant Erdan. In his speech, which was interrupted repeatedly by shouts of opposition members, he also thanked Knesset Member Tzachi Hanegbi for agreeing to be in the coalition. To add a little color to the chaos of the night, Hanegbi informed the press that he had agreed to no such thing.

Following Netanyahu’s speech, the leader of the opposition, MK Yitzhak Herzog gave one of the most fiery and effective speeches of his career. In it he called on Netanyahu to appoint a Foreign Minister (Netanyahu had been widely quoted as saying that he was holding on to the portfolio as a lure to bring the Zionist Union into the government), since he and his party would never join the “circus” of a coalition that is the current Netanyahu government. MK Herzog went on to say that Prime Minister Netanyahu had no vision for the country – other than his mission to continue as Prime Minister. MK Herzog warned the Prime Minister against doing anything that might hurt the independent judiciary, the free media, or the rights of Israeli minorities. Many observers commented that if Herzog had shown the level of focus or brimstone and fire he exhibited last night before the recent election, he might have been the one announcing his cabinet.

The final drama of the day played out a little later in the evening, as the vote on the new government neared. During PM Netanyahu’s speech both MK Gilad Erdan and MK Tzachi HaNegbi (the two most senior Likud members, both disappointed with their status in the new Netanyahu government) were not present. There was some speculation on whether the veteran Likud duo would show up for the vote, or whether in an act of spite, one or the other might decide to end the Netanyahu government before it began. However, when the vote was called, both MKs appeared and the Netanyahu government was approved by a vote of 61–59. Yesterday’s events – as agreed, even by a Likud spokesman – do not bode well for the smooth running of Netanyahu’s 4th government. Moreover, Herzog’s strong words about not joining the government seem to close the door to the possibility of broadening the coalition (at least for now). Israeli politics has never been boring. It looks like we can expect the coming months to be even more interesting than usual.