JERUSALEM – The heckling and chaos in the Knesset, an intimate parliamentary chamber transformed by anger, marked the end of Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year conflicted rule over Israel and the start of Naftali Bennett’s tenure as prime minister.
Mr. Bennett, a far-right politician whose decision to join an eight-party coalition including left-wing parties infuriated Mr. Netanyahu’s center-right Likud party, struggled for 43 minutes to be heard then that his opponents insulted and resisted. posters saying “Shame on you”.
Mr. Netanyahu gave a 35-minute speech full of venom, contempt for Mr. Bennett and terrible warnings about Israel’s security without him.
“Try to harm as little as possible the magnificent economy that we are handing over to you, so that we can remedy it as quickly as possible when we return,” he said in a typically unapologetic speech that exuded contempt and confidence. that he was going to come back soon.
A measure of calm returned only after several hours as voting began in Israel’s 120-member parliament. The sound of “Ba’ad”, meaning “in favor” and “Neged”, meaning “against”, alternated. The vote resulted in a 60-59 victory for the new coalition, with an abstention from a member of the Islamist party Raam, who is joining the government.
Mr. Netanyahu, wearing a black mask, was unmoved, even as members of Israel’s new government gathered around his centrist architect, Yair Lapid, and embraced.
An era had just ended.
Earlier, the debates had slowed to a breakneck pace as screams filled the room.
At least seven deputies were escorted. They accused Mr. Bennett of being unfit to rule Israel because his party, Yamina, only has a handful of seats; told him that he was “selling” the Negev desert because he agreed to respond to some requests from Arab lawmakers regarding Bedouin villages; and assaulted him as a “liar” and traitor to his right-wing voters.
In the room covered with blue carpet and paneled, the departing speaker had to call to order several times, to no avail. The turmoil was a true portrait of a country bitterly divided after four elections since 2019.
“We stopped the train a step before the abyss,” Bennett said, explaining that “the turmoil of elections and hatred” must end.
Such was the uproar that Mr. Lapid skipped his planned speech. He apologized to his 86-year-old mother, whom he had brought to Parliament to watch her because he “wanted her to be proud of the democratic process in Israel.” He added, “Instead, she, along with all the citizens of Israel, is ashamed of you. “
The pandemonium eased somewhat when Mr. Netanyahu stepped onto the podium, confident, even haughty. A certain sense of awe in which much of Israel held him was palpable.
The chamber was initially silent as he launched his speech, which was unusually contemptuous of the United States about Iran and its nuclear program. The Biden administration is considering a possible return to the Iran nuclear deal, which the Trump administration canceled.
“The new US administration has asked me to keep our disagreements on nuclear issues private, not to publicize them,” Netanyahu said. “I said I wouldn’t do that, and I’ll tell you why: because the lessons of history are before our eyes.”
He cited the United States’ refusal to bomb the rail lines leading to Nazi extermination camps during WWII or to bomb gas chambers there, “something that could have saved millions of our people.” .
“We didn’t have a state, we didn’t have an army” at the time, he said. “But today we have a voice, we have a voice and we have a defense force.”
That is why, Netanyahu continued, he told US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III during his visit in April that he would do “anything to prevent a deal that will lead to a nuclear Iran” .
Mr. Netanyahu said he also told Mr. Austin that “if I have to choose between friction between us and the removal of the existential threat against Israel, the removal of the threat will prevail.”
Such a challenge from the United States will be impossible for the new government, Netanyahu said. “To my great regret, Mr. Bennett does not have an international reputation, he does not have the credibility, nor the capacity, nor the knowledge, and above all he does not have a government which would make real resistance possible”, did he declare.
The tirade characterized Mr. Netanyahu’s belief that Israel cannot maintain its security without him.
Previously, Mr. Bennett had said he would never authorize a nuclear Iran and oppose the nuclear deal, but Mr. Netanyahu dismissed him as a man at the head of a “false right” to whom he was dismissed. could never be trusted.
- Key figures. The main players in the latest turn in Israeli politics have very different agendas, but a common goal. Naftali Bennett, who heads a small right-wing party, and Yair Lapid, the centrist leader of the Israeli opposition, have joined forces to form a diverse coalition to topple Benjamin Netanyahu, the longest-serving Israeli prime minister.
- Range of ideals. Covering Israel’s tense political spectrum from left to right, and relying on the support of a small Arab and Islamist party, the coalition, dubbed the “change of government” by its supporters, will likely mark a profound change for Israel .
- A common goal. After a stalemate that led to four inconclusive elections in two years and an even longer period of political polarization and government paralysis, the architects of the coalition vowed to get Israel back on track.
- An uncertain future. Parliament has yet to ratify the fragile agreement in a confidence vote in the coming days. But even if it does, it’s still unclear how much the “change of government” could bring to Israel, as some of the parties involved have little in common other than animosity towards Mr. Netanyahu.
His tone was too much for some members. “Corruption! Breach of trust! Fraud!” shouted Nitzan Horowitz, the chairman of the left-wing Meretz party, a member of the coalition. “You are a corrupt man.”
Mr. Horowitz was referring to the charges on which Mr. Netanyahu has been indicted in an ongoing trial.
Mr. Netanyahu, whose attachment to power seemed to many Israelis an increasingly desperate attempt to use his political office to defend himself against the judicial process, made almost no reference to his difficult legal situation.
When Mr. Netanyahu tried to brag about his spending on the Arab community in Israel, which represents around one-fifth of the population, Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Joint List alliance of three Arab-majority parties, was pressured into the fury.
“The law of the nation-state, the Kaminitz law and endless inducement!” He shouted – a reference to a series of measures over the past few years that have left Palestinian citizens of Israel feeling marginalized, de-legitimized and second-class.
Mr. Netanyahu had no response, weeks after mass violence erupted between Jews and Arabs in several Israeli towns.
In the hallways of the chamber, lined with portraits of members of former governments and parliaments, there was a constant buzz of excitement reflecting a sense of a historic moment.
Ram Ben Barak, a member of Mr. Lapid’s party and former deputy head of Mossad, the Israeli spy agency, said he was similarly moved in 1977, when Likud seized power for the first time under Menachem Begin, after three decades on the left. government. “Democracies need change and we need healing,” he said.
“We have to start with what we agree on,” said Penina Tamanu-Shata, the Ethiopian-born prime minister in Israel and member of the centrist Blue and White party. “We will deal with the 70% we agree to, not the remaining 30%.”
Mossi Raz, an MP for Meretz, noted that this was the first time in about 21 years that his party had entered government. For him, as an opponent of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, which Mr. Bennett strongly supports, this was a painful compromise.
“I’m happy, but I’ll tell you the truth,” he said. “I have a lot of hesitations and questions. The government is not what I wanted.
Yet, he said, compromise was necessary for Israel’s future. When asked how long the new government would last, he didn’t hesitate. “I’ll surprise you with my answer: four years,” he said.