Bennett becomes PM after Knesset vote

New coalition approved. by 60-59 votes.



Naftali Bennett has become Israel’s Prime Minister, dethroning a furious Benjamin Netanyahu, who fumed from the Knesset podium that the new government is “dangerous” and will compromise Israel’s interests. 

A Knesset vote gave official approval to the most unusual government ever seen in Israel: one led by a tiny party, uniting right, centre and left and for the first time including an Arab party, Raam.

The plenum erupted with cheers after 60 of the Knesset’s members threw their weight behind the new coalition and 59 voted against. 

Mr Bennett said that he helped to bring together the alliance because it is time to “stop the madness” of Israel's political instability, which has involved four elections in two years and seen internal tensions spiral. 

“To continue on in this way, with more elections, more hatred, more vitriolic posts on Facebook, just isn’t an option,” declared the right-wing politician, whose Yamina party has just 7 of the Knesset’s 120 seats. “Therefore, we stopped the train, a moment before it veered into the abyss.”

Mr Netanyahu claimed that his successor will be such a weak leader that the Iranians are “celebrating” and called him “fake right”. He claimed that Mr Bennnett had pulled a “scam” by saying he would not go in to coalition with the centrist Yair Lapid and the Yesh Atid party and then doing so.

His anger over the new government was echoed by the ultra-Orthodox parties, which say that despite being headed by the first yarmulke-wearing PM in history it will end up weakening the religious character of the state. A few hundred Orthodox Israelis held a prayer rally against the new government at the Western Wall on Sunday afternoon. 

In the Knesset session that approved the new government, tempers were so raised that several right-wing politicians were ordered out of the plenum for yelling. This prompted Mr Lapid to give an off-the-cuff speech on his horror at what was unfolding. 

He said: “I’m skipping the speech I planned to deliver today because I’m here to say one thing - to ask for forgiveness from my mother.

“My mother is 86 years old and we don’t ask her lightly to come to Jerusalem but we did it because I assumed that you would be able to get over yourselves and behave with statesmanship at this moment and she would see a smooth transition of government.

“When she was born there was no State of Israel, Tel Aviv was a small town of 30,000 people and we didn’t have a parliament. I wanted her to be proud of the democratic process in Israel. Instead she, along with every citizen of Israel, is ashamed of you and remembers clearly why it’s time to replace you.” 

There was drama until the very last moment, with questions hanging over whether enough members of the Arab party Raam would support the new government in the confidence vote. The party’s decision to enter the government was seen as bold, as the Israeli Arab community has an ambivalent attitude towards the state and its political representatives have steered clear of entering coalitions.

In the end, party leader Mansour Abbas hailed participating in the coalition as a “great opportunity” and secured the support of enough of his MKs to ensure the passage of the confidence vote. His party will serve alongside Mr Bennett’s Yamina, Israel Beytanu and New Hope, all of which are on the right, as well as centrist factions Yesh Atid and Blue and White. The left-wing Labour and Meretz are also part of the government. 


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