First priority for anti-Netanyahu coalition: Stay united long enough to get sworn in

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the media in Tel Aviv in March.
(Miriam Alster / Pool Photo)

In grave danger of losing his job, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out Thursday at the “dangerous” coalition that aims to unseat him, calling it a left-wing cabal when it in fact includes leading figures from Israel’s political right.

The country’s longest-serving leader unleashed his fury as his rivals strove to shore up the awkward coalition they announced late Wednesday, the greatest political threat that Netanyahu has faced in his last dozen years as premier. The opposition is trying to remain united in order to dislodge him from office as early as next week.

Netanyahu, 71, immediately sought to undermine the diverse forces arrayed against him by portraying them as dominated by dovish parties that support, among other things, the creation of a Palestinian state. In particular, he cast right-wing participants in the eight-party coalition — including Naftali Bennett, an observant Jew and former settler leader in line to replace Netanyahu — as betrayers of their own hard-line constituents.


“All lawmakers who were elected by right-wing voters must oppose this dangerous left-wing government,” Netanyahu wrote on Twitter, signaling a strategy of putting relentless pressure on members of the parliament, or Knesset, who have teamed up with their ideological opposites in an attempt to push him out of office.

With 38 minutes to spare before a midnight deadline, secular centrist Yair Lapid on Wednesday notified President Reuven Rivlin that he had assembled a prospective ruling coalition with sufficient parliamentary backing to oust Netanyahu.

But Lapid’s fractious, fragile grouping first has to survive a parliamentary vote of confidence, whose date is still being argued over.

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In challenging Netanyahu, Lapid, a 59-year-old former television host, made history by enlisting a party representing Arab citizens of Israel as a governing partner. He also took the unusual step of offering a key coalition ally, Bennett, the first turn in a rotation in the prime minister’s post, although Lapid’s party is the larger one.

Coalition negotiations continued into Thursday as the nascent allies competed for control of government ministries and committee posts — backroom battles that will translate into important policy clout in the new government, if it succeeds in getting sworn in.


Lapid promised Wednesday that his coalition would “do everything to unite every part of Israeli society.”

Netanyahu, a canny political survivor, has signaled his determination to use every possible parliamentary maneuver to foil or delay the vote that could relegate him to the political opposition, at a time when he is also on trial for corruption. The speaker of the parliament, Yariv Levin, is a member of the prime minister’s conservative Likud party, and may be able to put off the vote until June 14.

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The centerpiece of the prime minister’s strategy will be to weaponize the loyalties of religious hard-liners who backed Bennett and similarly minded candidates at the ballot box without expecting them to ally with the likes of Lapid.

The name of Bennett’s party, Yemina, means “rightward.” The views of the 49-year-old former military commando and high-tech millionaire are often described as ultra-nationalist, including his past calls to annex large chunks of the occupied West Bank.

“In the days before the vote can take place, Netanyahu will intensify the pressure, using protesters on the street, slime merchants on social media, and every rabbi prepared to issue blessings and curses, for him to sway the wavering legislators of Bennett’s party,” Anshel Pfeffer, an Israeli journalist and Netanyahu biographer, wrote in the left-leaning Haaretz daily newspaper.

Political analysts agreed that what has been dubbed the “change coalition” and its leaders face daunting challenges. Representing the Israeli left, center and right, they are unlikely to agree on war-and-peace issues such as Palestinian statehood, and will concentrate instead on bedrock domestic matters, including the economy and healthcare.

The political shakeup comes against what was already a tumultuous backdrop: recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and a short but ugly 11-day war with the Hamas militant group, which left parts of the impoverished Gaza Strip in ruins and sent Israelis scurrying for bomb shelters before ending in a cease-fire May 21.

Tamar Zandberg, a lawmaker from the leftist Meretz party, a coalition participant, said Thursday that simply making it as far as a swearing-in would be the coalition’s first test.

“That won’t be without rough patches and difficulties,” she told Israeli Army radio.