Netanyahu’s vow to govern for all Israelis at odds with the very nature of his coalition

Accepting the presidential mandate on Sunday to form his sixth Israeli government, incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was at his most statesmanlike and conciliatory.

In contrast to his election night victory speech, he twice referred to Israeli democracy, stressed the imperative to ensure “the individual rights of every citizen,” and vowed to act as prime minister for all Israelis — “those who voted for me and those who didn’t.”

In contrast to his inflammatory campaign rhetoric, in which he routinely castigated and incited against his opponents as leftists and a danger to Israel’s very existence, he promised to work to widen the areas of agreement inside Israel and foster internal unity — because “we, citizens of Israel, are brothers, and we are destined to live alongside one another, with all the differences and the contrasts.”

And he issued reassuring signals to Israel’s existing regional allies and to potential partners, committing to forging further accords, declaring his assessment that most of the peoples of the region do indeed seek peace, and setting out the belief that the flourishing of peace agreements will bring an end not only to the broader Israeli-Arab conflict but also, eventually, to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well.

He acknowledged that the anticipated formation of his right-religious government – whose constituent parties won barely half the popular vote – has prompted doomsday talk in some circles about the country “entering a dark tunnel,” indeed, about “the end of Israel.” but dismissed this as predictable and unfounded.

The fact is, however, that a coalition comprising his own increasingly hawkish Likud, the far-right Religious Zionism, and the two ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism does not begin to represent Israel’s diverse constituencies, and that many of its members hold positions and are advocating immensely far-reaching policies antithetical to the fundamental values, interests and needs of a vast number of Israelis.

The ultra-Orthodox parties are making coalition demands designed to ensure their community continues to avoid military service, to allocate vast sums of taxpayer money to further subsidize full-time yeshiva study, and to prevent the imposition of core subjects such as math and English in their school system. In meeting those demands, Netanyahu would be cooperating in the deepening exclusion of ultra-Orthodox males from the workforce, plunging the community into greater poverty, requiring still further government subsidies, raising the taxpayer burden on the rest of the workforce, and weakening the robust national economy of which he is so rightly proud.

Religious Zionism, for its part, is demanding senior ministerial posts commensurate with its strong electoral performance. The oft-convicted extremist provocateur Itamar Ben Gvir, advocate of Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount and the annexation of the entire West Bank without equal rights for Palestinians, is seeking to take charge of the police, as minister of public security. And the party’s anti-Arab, anti-gay, anti-non-Orthodox Judaism leader, Bezalel Smotrich, is angling to be minister of defense — having largely avoided IDF service and, reportedly, having narrowly escaped prosecution for plotting to attack motorists on the Ayalon Highway in a bid to thwart the 2005 disengagement from Gaza.

Lawmakers in all four of the nascent coalition parties, meanwhile, are pushing to legislate the so-called override clause, intended to prevent the Supreme Court from striking down legislation and government decisions at odds with Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws — legislation, that is , that discriminates against or undermines the individual rights of the Israeli citizens whom Netanyahu promised to protect.

Unsurprisingly, outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party pronounced itself unpersuaded by Netanyahu’s pledge to govern on behalf of all Israelis, issuing a statement immediately after the ceremony at the President’s Residence that called the tasking of the Likud leader with the formation of Israel’s next government “a dark day for Israeli democracy.”

A reaffirmation of “the democratic process” in “the sovereign, democratic State of Israel,” as Netanyahu put it? Or, a dark day for democracy, in the Yesh Atid summation? Since Netanyahu is aiming to finalize agreements with his partners and have his coalition sworn in within days, we will soon begin to find out.

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