The Slatest

Netanyahu’s New Government Will Push Israel Even Further to the Extreme Right

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Naftali Bennett, the head of the right-wing Jewish Home party on May 6, 2015, to announce the formation of a coalition government. 

Photo by GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images

Just minutes before the deadline, and nearly two months after his much bigger than expected election victory, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally has a government. The announcement came after a late night negotiating session between Netanyahu’s Likud party and the right-wing Jewish Home party. The ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism had already signed on to Netanyahu’s coalition, as had the center-right, economically focused Kulanu.

Ideologically, this is the kind of hard-right coalition Netanyahu probably had in mind when he dissolved his last government and called for elections in December. It also makes clear that, despite his attempts to walk it back, he meant what he said in the closing days of his campaign about there not being a Palestinian state as long as he’s prime minister.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat wasted no time in slamming the new government as “against peace and stability in our region.” The last minute deal with Jewish Home will secure the party’s rising star, Ayelet Shaked, the position of Justice Minister and a seat on Israel’s security cabinet. A pro-settlement hawk on Palestinian issues, Shaked is also an outspoken opponent of African immigration. In recent days, Israel has seen large demonstrations, some of which turned violent, by Ethiopians over police harassment. Given this, one opposition lawmaker described Shaked’s appointment to the post as “like appointing a pyromaniac to head the fire department.” 

With Jewish Home’s inclusion, the government is also more likely to push a controversial law making it harder for NGOs to receive foreign funding, a measure likely to mostly effect left-leaning human rights groups who receive much of their funding from abroad.

The big surprise of the coalition is that former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s ultra-nationalist Yisraeli Beiteinu party is not a part of it. Lieberman, who draws much of his support from secular Russian immigrants and had pushed to make military service mandatory for orthodox Jews, didn’t want to sit in a coalition with the two ultra-Orthodox parties. Plagued by corruption scandals, Lieberman had lost significant support in the last election and Netanyahu probably won’t be too sorry to be rid of him, but without Yisrael Beiteinu, he has only the bare minimum 61 votes necessary for a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

That leaves Netanyahu’s government more fragile and brittle then ever, and he’s likely to spend much of his time fending off no-confidence votes from the opposition. One commentator joked that Netanyahu’s members will “barely be able to step out to the washroom, because the fighting opposition will stay on top of which Knesset members are present and absent from the plenum.”

There will also be ample opportunities for rupture within the coalition. For one, Kulanu, whose leader Moshe Kahlon will likely be finance minister, opposes the controversial Nationality Bill, pushed by Jewish Home to emphasize the Jewish identity of the Israeli state, which critics say is anti-democratic and discriminatory to non-Jews. The bill was one of several factors that tore apart Netanyahu’s last coalition.

The White House put out a perfunctory statement saying that President Obama “looks forward” to working with the new government, but Netanyahu’s narrow—both in the ideological and numerical sense—coalition is likely to only increase Israel’s diplomatic isolation. On the other hand, it probably won’t last that long.

*Update, May 7, 2015: Netanyahu may be looking to broaden his coalition a little more. A spokesman claims that he is reserving the post of foreign minister, vacated by Lieberman, for Labor leader Isaac Herzog. But Herzog, the runner-up in the election, has said he will “not be a fifth wheel and have no intention of saving Netanyahu from the hole he has dug for himself.”