Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in as head of what is arguably the most right-wing Israeli government of all time



CNN

Benjamin Netanyahu made a dramatic return as Israeli prime minister on Thursday after being sworn in as head of what is likely the country’s most right-wing government in history.

Netanyahu and his government were sworn in for his sixth term as prime minister on Thursday, 18 months after he was ousted from power.

He returns with the support of several far-right figures who were once marginalized in Israeli politics after he assembled a coalition just before the deadline last week.

Members of Netanyahu’s Likud party will fill some of the key cabinet posts, including foreign minister, defense minister and justice minister.

But a number of politicians from Israel’s far-right political spectrum should be appointed to ministerial posts, despite controversy over their positions ahead of November’s elections, won by a Netanyahu-led bloc of ultra-nationalist and ultra-religious parties.

Itamar Ben Gvir, an extremist convicted of supporting terrorism and inciting anti-Arab racism, will take on a newly expanded public security role, renamed Minister of National Security, overseeing the police force in Israel as well as some police activities in the occupied West Bank .

Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionism party, was appointed 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 responsible, among other things, for managing borders, border crossings and permits for Palestinians.

During his campaign, Smotrich had proposed a series of drastic legislative reforms that many critics saw as a clear way to undermine judicial independence. That includes forgoing the ability to charge an official with fraud and breach of trust — charges Netanyahu faces in his ongoing corruption trial.

Netanyahu has pleaded not guilty, calling the trial a “witch hunt” and an “attempted coup,” and calling for changes to the Israeli judicial system.

Aryeh Deri, leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Sephardi party, will serve as interior and health ministers.

As the new ministers prepared to be sworn in at the Knesset, the country’s parliament, some 2,000 demonstrators gathered outside to protest Netanyahu’s return to office, the Jerusalem police spokesman said.

The shift to the right in the Israeli government has caused a stir at home and abroad. On Wednesday, over 100 retired Israeli ambassadors and foreign ministry officials expressed their concerns about Israel’s new government in a signed letter to Netanyahu.

The ex-diplomats, including former ambassadors to France, India and Turkey, expressed “deep concern at the serious damage to Israel’s foreign relations, its international standing and its core interests abroad emanating from the new administration’s apparent policies. ”

The letter pointed to “statements by potential high-ranking officials in the government and the Knesset”, reports of political changes in the West Bank and “some possible extreme and discriminatory laws” as causes for concern.

US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides congratulated Netanyahu on Thursday, writing on Twitter: “To the rock-solid US-Israel relationship and the unbreakable ties.” Nides is married to Virginia Mosely, CNN’s US executive vice president for editorial.

Biden administration officials have largely avoided addressing the far-right components of the new Israeli government. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week the US “will engage with our partners in Israel and judge them on the basis of the policies they pursue, not the personalities who happen to be in government.”

Netanyahu’s narrow November victory in the fifth Israeli election in less than four years came amid a period of prolonged political chaos in which he has remained a dominant figure.

In his address to the Knesset on Thursday, Netanyahu said that the first of his government’s three main tasks will be to “thwart Iran’s efforts to obtain nuclear weapons.” The second priority would be developing the country’s infrastructure, including launching a high-speed train, and the third would be signing more peace deals with Arab nations “to end the Israeli-Arab conflict.”

Netanyahu was already Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, having previously held the post from 2009 to 2021 and before that for a term in the late 1990s.

Israel also got its first openly gay speaker of parliament on Thursday. Amir Ohana, a former Minister of Justice and Public Security, is a member of the Knesset and represents Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Some ultra-Orthodox MPs who declined to attend his swearing-in ceremony in the Knesset 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 handing you a state in excellent condition. Try not to ruin it, we’ll be right back. The transfer files are ready.”

With additional reporting from Kareem El Damanhoury

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