Out With The Old, In With The New
Written and Narrated by Ethan Hay
The longest serving Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, was removed from office on June 13th, 2021. The one hundred-twenty members of the Knesset(1) voted to replace him by a narrow vote of 60-59. This is the second time that he has been removed from power. His first premiership from 1996-1999 ended when the coalition that he was leading broke apart. He subsequently resigned his seat in the Knesset and returned to the private sector(2). However, he wasn’t done with politics. In the early 2000’s, he was appointed as Minister of Foreign Affairs by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from 2002-2003. He then was appointed as Finance Minister(3) from 2003-2005, helping spearhead an economic recovery by focusing on cutting regulation. Upon Ariel Sharon’s departure from the center-right Likud party to organize the centrist party, Kadima(4), in 2005, Netanyahu ascended to the leadership of Likud(5). From 2006-2009 he served as leader of a weakened opposition(6), until he was elected once again as Prime Minister(7) in 2009. He has been Prime Minister for the last 12 years, and became the longest serving Prime Minister in Israeli(8) history, surpassing the previously longest serving, and one of the founders of the State of Israel, David Ben-Gurion(9).
Now, Netanyahu has been displaced, and is yet again serving as Opposition Leader(10), despite the fact that Likud holds the most seats in the Knesset, twenty-nine members to be exact. That being said, there are three questions that must be asked. They are as follows: Who is in power in Israel? What’s next for Netanyahu? And, how long can the coalition last?
Let’s start with who’s in power. The only reason that Netanyahu has been removed from office is because of the unlikely partnership of the party leaders of the centrist party Yesh Atid(11), led by former journalist Yair Lapid(12), and the ultra-conservative Yamina party(13), which is led by former tech businessman, Naftali Bennett(14). The two men have agreed to alternate the office of Prime Minister, with Bennett serving until August of 2023, at which point Lapid, who is currently serving as Minister of Foreign Affairs(15), would assume the role.
Now, who is Naftali Bennett? The man who is currently serving as Prime Minister, has proclaimed that he is to the right of Netanyahu, but that he is not seeking to demonize(16) his political enemies, as he says Netanyahu has done. He is the son of two American immigrants who moved to Israel in 1967. He was born on March 25th, 1972, in Haifa Israel. He served in the Israeli Defense Force(17) (IDF), as is required by all Israeli citizens, with the exception of Israeli Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews, both of which may choose to serve or not serve. Bennett served for six years in the IDF, rising to the rank of Rav seren, or the equivalent of Major. He was attached to the recon, paratrooper unit, Maglan(18), and the elite special operations unit, Sayeret Matkal(19). Upon leaving active-duty, he earned a law degree from Hebrew University of Jerusalem(20). He then had a very successful career in the tech industry, helping co-found the company Cyota(21), which was sold to RSA Security. He then served as CEO of Soluto(21), until his entrance into politics. During his time in politics, he had a wide variety of high-ranking roles during the Netanyahu years, namely: Minister of Economy, Religious Services, Diaspora, Affairs, Education, Defense, and Community Affairs. As well as founding and leading several political parties. Now he is Prime Minister, at the age of 49(14).
Yair Lapid could be considered Israeli royalty. His father was Yosef ‘Tommy’ Lapid, a journalist, who from 1999-2006 served in the Knesset. He served as Deputy Prime Minister(22), Minister of Justice, and Opposition Leader, throughout his political career. The younger Lapid followed in his father’s footsteps and also became a journalist, after a very brief stint in the IDF armored division that ended prematurely due to asthma. However, he continued to serve as a military correspondent for the IDF newspaper. He had a column in a national newspaper and has also written several books, including five novels, a biography of his father, a political book, and two children’s books. He has also written a play and has acted in a film called ‘Song of the Siren.’ In 1994, he became an anchor for an evening show. Throughout his career, he hosted several other news programs before retiring(12) in 2012 to enter politics as the founder and leader of the party Yesh Atid. In the 2013 Israeli legislative election, the first for Lapid’s fledgling party(6), Yesh Atid performed much better than expected, gaining nineteen seats. His party joined the Netanyahu coalition, with Lapid serving as Minister of Finance. However, his time as Minister of Finance(23) didn’t go well, leading to him being sacked(24) in 2014, and his party’s seating in the Knesset decreased from nineteen seats(25), to eleven. In 2019, he made an alliance with Benny Gantz(26), and his Israel Resilience party(27). This political alliance was called the Kaḥol Lavan(28), or Blue and White, and it was the beginning of the end of the Netanyahu government.
It would trigger three different elections, with the third one leading to the formation of a coalition government(29) with Netanyahu and Gantz sharing power. However, in March 2021, a fourth election was held, and it was this election that led to the coalition led by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid, despite the fact that Netanyahu’s Likud remained the largest party(30) in the Knesset. While Bennett is currently serving as Prime Minister, and Lapid is head of Foreign Affairs(31), there are some who believe that without Lapid, the coalition might have never happened.
Now, to the question as to what Netanyahu will do. He will serve as the Opposition Leader, all the while he is under criminal investigation(32) for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. In 2019, he was actually indicted(33) by the Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit(34). That being said, he is not the only Israeli Prime Minister to get into legal issues. For instance, Yitzhak Rabin, one of Israel’s most beloved Prime Ministers, had to resign from the office due to a financial scandal, which involved two illegal foreign bank accounts, back from his time as ambassador(35) to the US. At the time, such accounts were illegal. However, that didn’t stop Rabin from returning to office in 1992, spearheading the Oslo Peace Accords(36), and signing a treaty with Jordan that recognized the State of Israel. Netanyahu has been unseated twice now, and his party is still the largest in the Knesset. Furthermore, he has already said that he will “take down this bad government(37) and return to lead the country.” Only time will tell if he makes good on this promise.
The final question is whether or not this government, which is being led by two men who are diametrically opposed on a variety of issues. For instance, Bennett is a practicing Jew, and conservative, while Lapid is a secularist, and centrist. But one of the biggest issues is their views on whether or not there should be a Palestinian state. Lapid is in favor of the two-state solution(38), Bennett is vehemently opposed to the creation of a Palestinian(39) state. However, Bennett has said that his and Lapid’s approach is ’70%-70%,’ meaning they agree and want to focus on 70% of the issues and worry about the 30% differences(40) later. Is this an effective way to govern? Or will their differences be too great to overcome? I reiterate, only time will tell, but I, personally, am optimistic for the future of Israel.