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A Look at Who’s Who in Israel’s New Far-Right Government

Benjamin Netanyahu finally was sworn into what many have called the country's most right-wing government ever. Here's a quick guide to some of the Knesset's new top dogs.

by Harriet Salem
May 15 2015, 5:00pm

Photo by Jim Hollander/AP

After 49 days of coalition negotiations and wrangling over ministerial positions, on Thursday evening Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally was sworn into what many have called the country's most right-wing government ever. From the allegations of inciting genocide, to the finance minister's budget woes, here's a quick guide to some of the Knesset's new top dogs.

Prime Minister: Benjamin Netanyahu

Photo by Amos Ben Gershom, GPO via Flickr


Netanyahu, known as "Bibi" to friend and foe alike, will take his fourth term as Israel's prime minister, following an eleventh hour deal on May 6.

A dramatic last minute policy swerve saw Netanyahu's ruling Likud party surge from second place in the final polls to a clear six seat lead on voting day, after he had disavowed a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and claimed he was the only person who could save Jerusalem from becoming a second "Hamastan" — a reference to the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Palestinian militant group Hamas.

While it may have won over voters, Netanyahu's right wing rally cry earned him the cold shoulder from the White House — usually Israel's staunch ally — which slammed the campaign as "divisive."

Adding to his woes, Netanyahu then had far more trouble than expected forming a government after Avigdor Liebermann, his long-time "frenemy," pulled his right-wing nationalist party out of coalition negotiations at the last minute.

In the end, a deal was struck with just 90 minutes left of the clock before a midnight deadline, but the price was high. In exchange for his loyalty, the Jewish Home party's leader Naftali Bennett forced Netanyahu to hand over the coveted justice ministry to his party — a demand the prime minister called "extortionist."

Netanyahu has little room to maneuver, as the government in its present form holds a knife-edge majority of just 61 out of 120 seats in the Knesset — the Israel parliament — giving backbenchers plenty of opportunity to make their voices heard.

If this isn't enough, Netanyahu also faces a major domestic headache — his wife is currently embroiled in a court case defending herself against allegations she bullied and abused a member of staff.

Defense Minister: Moshe Yaalon

Photo by Kobi Gideon / GPO via Flickr

Hawkish Yaalon will keep his position as Israel's defense minister under Netanyahu's new government, making this his second stint in the position.

A political heavyweight and military veteran, Yaalon joined Netanyahu's Likud party in 2008 after 37 years of service in the Israeli Defense Force, including a three-year stint as the army's Chief of Staff.

During the recent election campaign, Yaalon publicly accused NGOs funded by "foreign money" of orchestrating a campaign against Likud by encouraging Arabs and leftists to vote.

It's not the first time the officer-turned-politician has courted controversy. In 2009, the defense minister slammed Israeli NGO Peace Now as a "virus" while speaking at a Likud convention for settlers. And while serving in the last government, he backed a bill that banned Arab workers from passing through specific West Bank checkpoints, effectively prohibiting them from using Israeli-run buses.

Yaalon has also likened Palestinians to cancer. "Some say it's necessary to amputate organs, but at the moment I'm applying chemotherapy," he told Israeli newspaper Haaretz in an interview during the second intifada.

Education Minister: Naftali Bennett

Photo via Flickr

Bennett, leader of the pro-settlement Jewish Home party, was one of the unexpected winners of the coalition negotiations after Liebermann's dramatic withdrawal suddenly put him in the position of kingmaker, despite his party only holding six seats.

Bennnett eventually agreed to join the government, but only after he'd squeezed two key ministerial positions out of the prime minister, the education ministry for himself, and the justice ministry for his close pal and party co-founder, Ayelet Shaked.

A renowned hardliner, Bennett has called for Palestinian terrorists to be shot, and opposes gay marriage.

Justice Minister: Ayelet Shaked

Photo by Jim Hollander/AFP/Getty Images

In a tough contest, Shaked, the co-founder of the far-right Jewish Home party and a proponent of mass expansion of settlements, win the title of most extreme minister, hands down.

During last summer's war in Gaza, Shaked was accused of inciting genocide when she reposted a 12-year-old article by late Israeli journalist Uri Elitzer calling Palestinian children "little snakes," and agitating for Israel to kill the "mothers of martyrs." Shaked later deleted the post, claiming she'd been misunderstood, but this wasn't enough to convince Turkey's prime minister, who said her "mentality was no different to Hitler."

A mother-of-two, Shaked is also vocal on the issue of Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers in Israel. "It's totally a lie that they're running from genocide," she said earlier this year.

Israel's new justice minister also occupies herself with lobbying for restricting the powers of the judiciary. During the previous parliament, she put forward legislation that would have allowed parliament to overrule the Supreme Court, and is now  expected to push for reforms that would see judges appointed by politicians.

Finance Minister: Moshe Kahlon

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Kahlon and his fledgling Kulanu party have a tough job ahead of them, after essentially being doubled-crossed by Netanyahu.

One of the more moderate ministers in the new cabinet, the mild-mannered politician split from Netanyahu's Likud Party to form his own center-right Kulanu party in 2014. Already popular for forcing cellphone networks to slash their prices during his time as communications minister, Kahlon's fledgling party won over voters with bold pledges to reduce house prices and cost of living within Israel.

At first, all seemed to be going to plan: Khalon was offered the position of finance minister, and also negotiated control of the construction and environment committee for his party. However, his scope to deliver their election promises has since been drastically reduced. In order to secure the allegiance of the ultra-Orthodox parties to the coalition, Netanyahu about-turned on a previous agreement to cut child benefits and funding to Yeshiva schools, effectively increasing the amount Kahlon will have to cut from other places from 8 million to 15 million shekels. The dismayed finance minister has called the move "disappointing."