New Israeli gov’t claims ‘national responsibility’; comes with heavy price tag

After 18 months, a national unity government is born amidst criticism of its outsized number of ministers and deputy ministers.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

After 507 days of political strife and three elections, the Knesset voted in a national unity government Sunday that is the broadest based and also the largest in terms of ministers in Israeli history.

Seventy-two MKs supported the government across a wide swath of parties. Due to the restrictions on public gatherings because of the coronavirus, the only spectators during the swearing-in ceremony were President Reuven Rivlin, and Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and her husband.

The pandemic was the factor that finally brought the political stalemate to an end. Overcoming the health and economic crises it has caused in the last three months was the reason Blue and White head Benny Gantz gave for breaking his campaign promise never to join a government led by an indicted head of state.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is going on trial next week in three cases, on charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery, all of which he has strenuously denied.

Gantz will serve as defense minister and “alternate prime minister,” a newly created post that will go to Netanyahu in November 2021 when the two leaders rotate in office. In their speeches during the ceremony, both men talked of the sense of “national responsibility” they felt during this time.

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“We chose to serve the nation together as obliged by the… needs of the hour, and indeed the time is urgent,” said Netanyahu.

He referred specifically to the “complicated budget” that will need to be passed to help the economy get back on track after businesses nationwide closed for weeks to stop the spread of the virulent disease, which has finally slowed to a trickle of new cases over the last week.

For his part, Gantz talked of his sense of urgency in beginning a period of healing in the country, and the security and economic challenges that needed to be met, which could only be done via a national unity government.

“We made the difficult decision and took national responsibility,” he said, noting that he had agreed on the shared power scheme because “it was right for the citizens of Israel.”

The new government has come with a hefty price tag of 35 ministers and 16 deputy ministers – the largest executive branch in Israel’s history.

During his Knesset speech Sunday, opposition leader Yair Lapid attacked the government for it size, which includes several new ministries. The ministries were created to ensure there would be enough jobs to dole out to senior party members given the large number of coalition members.

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Hebrew media has made much of the fact that the jobs-handout will cost the Israeli taxpayer almost NIS 240 million, at a time when almost a million Israelis are still out of work.