Last Monday morning, the people of Israel woke up to a new, more representative government. The new coalition government is an alliance of eight parties with views almost comically divergent from one another. The coalition united under a shared desire to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and bring about a change in leadership. This government represents the strength of Israel’s democracy, a rarity in the Middle East. It also reflects the diversity of the people of Israel.
Naftali Bennett is Israel’s new prime minister. He leads the Yamina (literally “rightwards”) Party. Through the coalition deal, Bennett will serve as prime minister for two years. He will then be replaced by Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party. Bennett made a fortune in the high-tech industry before entering the political scene in 2013. He is Israel’s first leader to wear a kippah and self-identify as an Orthodox Jew. He told the Knesset that his new government would be inclusive and, “will open a new page in the relations between the State of Israel and the country’s Arab citizens. The Arab community will be represented in the coalition by Mansour Abbas and his party.”
Indeed, Mansour Abbas will serve as a key deputy minister, although this title understates his power and influence. This is historic. Abbas’s Ra’am party is the first exclusively Arab political party to fully join an Israeli government. Arabs make up 21% of Israel’s population. Abbas is Palestinian Arab by culture and heritage and Israeli by citizenship. In a message to his supporters, he said, “[w]e decided to join the government in order to change the balance of political forces in the country.” Abbas has said he will work to negotiate large increases in government spending and improve social services in Arab communities. The coalition agreement between Abbas and Bennett includes the allocation of over 16 billion dollars to combat violent crime and improve infrastructure in Arab towns. “I say here clearly and frankly: when the very establishment of this government is based on our support … we will be able to influence it and accomplish great things for our Arab society,” Abbas said.
Again, this is a big deal. When so many self-proclaimed pro-Palestinian activists around the world are calling for boycotts, sanctions, and the destruction of Israel, an actual elected representative of the community is choosing to engage more deeply in Israeli politics and society for the benefit of his people.
Serving alongside this conservative Islamist is the new Minister of Health, Nitzan Horowitz, who is openly gay. The new government also includes a record number of women. Out of the twenty-seven cabinet ministers who were installed with the new government this past Sunday, nine are women. These women head crucial ministries including education, interior, transportation, environmental protection and aliyah/integration. This group of female ministers is incredibly diverse. Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli is a longtime advocate for LGBTQ, women’s and workers’ rights. Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata is the first Ethiopian-born member of the Israeli cabinet. The entire cabinet represents the diversity of the country and reinforces Israel’s global leadership position as a champion of women’s rights.
This new diverse government truly makes a mockery of the absurd “apartheid” label. A devout Muslim and adherent of an Islamist ideology is now Israel’s Joe Manchin – a dealmaker at the center of a 50/50 legislative chamber with enormous clout. Anyone who chooses to look objectively can plainly see Israel as the bastion of diversity and democracy that it is. This is a country that prioritizes the rights of women, the LGBTQ community, and all minorities. Now, Israel has a government that looks and acts like the country it represents. Best of luck to the antisemites and Israel haters who will try to pretend otherwise.