Winners and Losers of the 36th Israeli Government

Benjamin Netanyahu finds himself in an unfamiliar position: out of power. Photo: AP Photo/Ariel Schalit.

It’s been over a decade since Benjamin Netanyahu found himself in the opposition, but on Sunday, the Naftali Bennett-Yair Lapid government ousted Israel’s longtime PM. This government is unheard of in its diversity, and it’s hard to say what will happen in the coming days, weeks, and months. With that said, there are a couple clear winners, and a couple clear losers.

Loser: Benjamin Netanyahu

The most obvious loser is also the most significant. After over a decade in power, Israel’s longest serving prime minister is out of time, out of tricks and out of power. Ousted by his own longtime aide, relegation to the minority is only the beginning of Netanyahu’s troubles. The former prime minister is currently under indictment in a corruption scandal involving bribery and promising newspapers favorable regulations in return for positive news coverage. While in power, Netanyahu was able to make all kinds of bureaucratic and legal maneuvers to avoid prosecution, many of which are no longer available to him. And, while the evidence against him is strong, a conviction of Netanyahu is far from assured. He remains a powerful man and a genius politician, and it would not be surprising if he were able to avoid imprisonment. With that said, his future is much more uncertain than it was a few short months ago.

Winner: Arab-Israeli Communities

Arab parties have traditionally abstained from serving in the ruling coalition, but in breaking with their past, the United Arab List (UAL) was able to score some major concessions. First, the UAL succeeded in securing a three-year freeze on the Kaminitz Law, a controversial piece of legislation that makes it easier for Israel to bulldoze illegal construction. Many Arabs in the Negev see this law as targeting their communities, and a pause to bulldozing buys the UAL valuable time to bargain further. They also negotiated a 9-month pause on all demolitions while the government formulates a coherent policy. Second, Israel will invest a record amount of capital into the areas for which the UAL is primarily responsible. Over the coming years, the government will spend 52 billion shekels ($16 billion) in Arab communities, far outstripping the previous record of 15 billion shekels.

Winner: Good Governance

While the drama caused by the last three years of electoral shenanigans was compelling, there have been real harms caused by the governmental instability. Chief among these drawbacks was the stagnation of the national budget. While there was no majority, no new budget could be agreed on, so the monetary allocations have remained unchanged since 2019. The presence of a majority should be able to immediately change that. The lack of a ruling government also hampers the country’s ability to make rapid and decisive choices, especially in times of crisis. This was painfully apparent at the start of the pandemic, when Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan was forced to quickly join Netanyahu’s Likud to address the coming health disaster. Should a security threat arise in the future, a government with a governing majority will be much better equipped to handle the threat. The coalition deal with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid also removed some of the powers of the attorney general, set term limits on the prime minister’s office and amended the process by which courts can amend or repeal laws.

Loser: The Rabbinate

Cast from power for the first time since 2013, the typically powerful ultra-Orthodox parties find themselves in the unfamiliar position of being unable to defend their interests. The Rabbinate, and specifically the chief Rabbi of Israel, maintain a stranglehold on the institutions of marriage and conversion in Israel. The new coalition stands to reduce the power of this monopoly. Coalition deals with secular and left-leaning parties have opened the door to possible conversion to Judaism through local Rabbis, rather than exclusively the Chief Rabbi. This would benefit Conservative and Reform Jews, who’s American brand of Judaism has faced opposition from the Israeli ultra-Orthodox. Agreements with Avigdor Lieberman and the secular Yisrael Beitenu Party have also created a mixed prayer space at the Kotel, countering the majority Orthodox opinion that prayer ought to remain segregated by sex.

UAL leader Mansour Abbas broke with tradition to be the key to forming this government. Photo: Reuters/Ronen Zvulun.

Winner: The Left

As odd as it seems given the current Israeli political climate, the left, specifically the Labor Party, used to be the ruling force in Israel. Initially led by David Ben-Gurion, the Israeli left governed the country for its first 30 years of existence and remained consistently one of the most powerful forces in Knesset through the mid-1990s. Since the murder of inspirational liberal Yitzchak Rabin, however, Labor’s influence has steadily declined, barely making Knesset in some of the more recent elections. Labor, and their further-left counterpart Meretz, were being declared dead only a year or two ago. Now, with their inclusion in Bennett’s coalition, the political left has the most influence that they’ve had in years.

Loser: Yamina’s Dream Agenda

Yamina leaders Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked have lofty dreams of right-wing governance, but, for the time being, those ambitions will have to wait. Yamina’s platform includes the “application of Israeli sovereignty” in the West Bank, an idea that has long been a dream of many Israeli conservatives. While this idea would be virtually impossible to implement even with the full backing of the Israeli government, the disparate ideologies Bennett must contend with shelves this idea entirely. The left-wing Meretz has openly acknowledged a Palestinian state, and Labor, Ra’am and Yesh Atid would balk at the idea of annexation of the entire West Bank. Perhaps Yamina will have its dream government once Netanyahu is in jail and Israeli politics begin to make sense again, but now is not the time for Bennett’s grand vision.

Winner: LGBT Rights, Sort Of

This government will mark a few “firsts” for the LGBT community in Israel. Nitzan Horowitz, leader of the far-left Meretz Party, is the first openly gay leader of a major Israeli party, and now is the first openly gay leader to serve in the ruling government. Meretz also managed to secure an assurance from the far right Yamina that this government would use “all the tools at their disposal to advance the gay community’s rights.” This declaration of support from the Israeli right could mark a change in LGBT policy going forward. With that said, the UAL has secured the right to “vote its conscience,” that is to say, against, any LGBT issues. Without their support, there is virtually no chance to pass any concrete legislation. Still, the symbolic victory is nothing to scoff at.

The Israel Journal at NYU is an explanatory journal dedicated to clearing up the conversation around Israel.