(June 14, 2021 / JNS) H.E. President Reuven Rivlin; President-elect Isaac Herzog; Mr. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; President of the Supreme Court, Justice Esther Hayut; Speaker of the Knesset Yariv Levin; my partner in forming the unity government, member of Knesset Yair Lapid, and his wife Lihi; ministers of the outgoing government; ministers of the incoming government; members of Knesset; honored guests.
I want to begin my words by saying, on my own behalf, and in the name of the members of the designated government, in the name of this House and in the name of all the citizens of Israel—thank you. Thank you to the outgoing prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, for your many years of service, replete with achievements, for the sake of the State of Israel. As prime minister, you acted throughout many years to embolden Israel’s political, security and economic strength. I saw you from up-close, in extensive security deliberations, late into the night, investigating, making inquiries and considerations out of a sense of grave responsibility.
Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu, over the years we have not always agreed, but we have both sacrificed much on a personal level in order to serve our people, the people of Israel. Expressing gratitude is a fundamental principle in Judaism. This is the time for the people to say to you: thank you.
I also want to take this opportunity to express my deep appreciation to the tenth president of the State of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, for his years as president, as Speaker of the Knesset, and as a public servant. And to congratulate President-elect Isaac Herzog and wish him much success. God willing, we will work together very well.
Honored ladies and gentlemen, this is a special moment. The moment in which the baton of leading the people and the country passes—as in a relay race—to the next generation. It is a sacred endowment.
The State of Israel is not “just another country.” It is the dream of generations of Jews—from Marrakech to Budapest, from Baghdad to San Francisco—a dream we merited to see realized every day before our very eyes. Each generation has its own challenges, and out of each generation comes the leaders that can overcome them.
The external challenges we face are great: the Iranian nuclear project, which is moving towards a crucial point; the ongoing war on terror; Israel’s image in the world and the unfair treatment it receives in international institutions—these are all sizable and complex tasks.
At this time, we are also facing an internal challenge. The ongoing rift in the nation, as we see in these very moments, which continues to rip apart the seams that hold us together, and has thrown us—one election after another—into a maelstrom of hatred and infighting.
Such quarrels, between the people who are supposed to be running the country, led to paralysis. One who quarrels cannot function.
And so Israel ceased to be managed: a lack of governance in the Negev and loss of the South for 12 years, riots in mixed cities, the lack of state budget, the terrible disaster in Meron.
Dear friends, in the guests’ gallery today sits Maya Moreno, widow of my friend Lt. Col. Emmanuel Moreno of blessed memory. At every important juncture of my life, I think of Emmanuel. The intensity of his devotion and sense of mission guides us.
Friends, as the Jewish people tend to be people with opinions … and as we see here, the parliament of the Jewish state is a parliament of opinions, and anyone who has ever seen a pair of students studying Talmud together, or a heated debate about a product in the office corridors of an Israeli start-up, understands the force for good of “disputes for the sake of Heaven.” But there are points in Jewish history in which the disagreements between us have gone out of control, in which they were no longer “disputes for the sake of Heaven,” times in which they threatened us, and all that we have built with our sweat and blood.
Twice in history, we have lost our national home precisely because the leaders of the generation were not able to sit with one another and compromise. Each was right, yet with all their being right, they burned the house down on top of us. I am proud of the ability to sit together with people with very different views from my own.
This time, at the decisive moment, we have taken responsibility. We understood that we have to safeguard our home. To continue on in this way—more elections, more hatred, more vitriolic posts on Facebook—is just not an option. Therefore, we stopped the train, a moment before it barreled into the abyss. And I want to thank my friend, Foreign Minister-designate MK Yair Lapid, who showed national responsibility, political generosity, and without whom we would not be here today.
The time has come for different leaders, from all parts of the people, to stop, to stop this madness.
The government that will be formed represents many of Israel’s citizens: from Ofra to Tel Aviv, from Rahat to Kiryat Shmona. Precisely here lies the opportunity. Our principle is, we will sit together, and we will forge forward on that which we agree—and there is much we agree on; transport, education and so on—and what separates us we will leave to the side.
To the citizens of Israel, I say: this is a sensitive moment, of political change. I call on all to demonstrate maturity and restraint.
The new government will be a government which strives for real, practical solutions to the problems faced by the country and its citizens. The work plan which we are presenting today is the most detailed in years. We are here to work. To remove the barriers, to free up the jams and to turn our country into what it can be.
The following are some of the things the government will promote immediately:
We will take responsibility for the education of Israeli children from birth. The most formative years. As a first step, we will transfer responsibility for infant daycare to the Ministry of Education.
We will enable many ultra-Orthodox youth to go out to work by lowering the (national service) exemption age from 24 to 21. Not by force, but by positive encouragement, allowing young people who want to learn a vocation to be able to, and those who want to study Torah will continue to do so.
We will close with immediate effect the Ministry of Digital Affairs, the Ministry for Water, the Ministry for Communal Advancement and the Ministry for Strategic Affairs.
Foreign Minister-designate and Alternate Prime Minister-designate Yair Lapid will lead a process to rehabilitate the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is a fundamental tool for building Israel’s political strength.
Finance Minister-designate Avigdor Lieberman will lead a plan by which we will return to work those who lost their employment due to COVID-19. We will bring in as many people as possible in the high-tech industry, where there are higher salaries, by setting a national target of raising the number of high-tech workers to 15 percent of the workforce by 2026.
We will reduce superfluous regulation and frustrating bureaucracy, and we will work for citizen-friendly government services, as in Singapore among other countries—without paperwork, without queues.
We will make life easier for independent workers and small-business owners, including through unemployment benefits.
We will increase income support for the elderly to 70 percent of the minimum wage.
We will open up competition in kashrut [kosher certification] and set standards for the system. This will lighten the burden on restaurant owners, ending the stranglehold monopoly in this area, bringing down the cost of food and strengthening the public’s faith in the level of kashrut.
Justice Minister-designate Gideon Sa’ar will lead a process to create an appropriate balance between the judicial, legislative and executive branches of government, whereby his initiative to split the role of the attorney general is a significant first step.
We will—finally—promote a national plan for the north of Israel, including establishing a hospital and a university in the Galilee.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz will lead a process to significantly strengthen and build up the IDF through a multi-year plan, which will include significant investment in offensive and defensive capabilities. We must invest because the threats will not leave us. Our soldiers deserve the best and most advanced equipment in the world.
We will work to upgrade Israel’s public transport system, led by Transport Minister-designate Merav Michaeli.
We will strengthen the building of communities across the Land of Israel.
We will ensure Israel’s national interests in Area C—and we will increase standards to that end after much neglect in this area.
And yes, my friends, we 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. This is a process [for which] I must give credit to Prime Minister Netanyahu, who held a groundbreaking series of meetings with Mansour Abbas, who extended a hand. This was the right thing to do. We understand the plight and needs of the Arab society. The fight against crime and violence, the housing crisis, the gaps in education and infrastructure—will be addressed.
We will begin the process of regulating the Bedouin settlements in the Negev so that Israel’s Bedouin citizens can live in dignity.
Health Minister-designate Nitzan Horowitz will prepare the health system for a new age of community- and home-based medical care, and together we will prepare an emergency plan [against] future pandemics. You can’t always know there will be a vaccine, not every illness has a vaccine, and you have to be prepared to build on vaccinations, but also on an organized plan and not as we saw in the last year.
We will accelerate the pace of building homes in Israel. The government will take the initiative, remove obstacles and allow for extensive construction throughout the country, in order to put the brakes on the rise in the cost of housing. There has been a slowdown in the building of houses in the last year—we should be seeing the opposite. We should have increased the building, there is a deficit in housing which drives up the prices, and no propaganda will hide that. Therefore we will up the pace of construction to put the brakes on the rise in prices, and allow young people—who serve in the army, fulfill reserve duty, pay their taxes, yet have no chance of building a house [to do so]. So yes, we need to deal with this.
The government will work to promote Jewish immigration to Israel, and the best integration for them.
We will strengthen the bond between the State of Israel and the Jews of the Diaspora. We will care for our brothers and sisters around the world, we will fight against the wave of anti-Semitism.
We will safeguard the State of Israel, the nation-state of the Jewish people, as a Jewish and democratic state.
And that is just part of our plans. As I said, we are here to work! For everyone.
From here, I turn to the ultra-Orthodox community. Although the ultra-Orthodox parties chose not to join the coalition, that does not mean you are not represented—I will represent you, we will represent you. The new government will respect the study of Torah—the Torah which kept us safe for so many years in exile—and at the same time will work to remove the barriers which prevent the ultra-Orthodox community’s integration into the employment market and Israeli society.
Instead of perpetuating the same methods, we will have the opportunity to address the deep problems which burden ultra-Orthodox society, key among them the housing crisis. The pace of construction of apartments, neighborhoods and cities simply does not keep up with natural growth, and there is room for the establishment of new ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, and even a new city in Israel.
I was asked by the father of Eliyahu Shmuel, of blessed memory—a 16-year-old ultra-Orthodox boy, who was killed in the Meron disaster—to commemorate him in my swearing-in address. Eli was a sweet child. He always helped his friends and saw the good in everyone. We will not forget Eli, and we will not ignore his death. A State Commission of Inquiry will be set up [to investigate the Meron disaster].
Honored ladies and gentlemen. The government is setting out on its path as the greatest threat to Israel, the Iranian nuclear project, is reaching a critical point. The Middle East has yet to recover from the effects of the first nuclear deal, which emboldened Iran to the tune of billions of dollars, and with international legitimacy.
Iran, through its Quds Force of the [Islamic] Revolutionary Guard [Corps], has established terrorist outposts—from Syria, through Gaza and Lebanon and to Yemen. Renewing the nuclear deal with Iran is a mistake that will once again lend legitimacy to one of the most discriminatory and violent regimes in the world.
Israel will not allow Iran to be equipped with nuclear weapons. Israel is not party to the agreement and will maintain full freedom to act.
Last month, we received a reminder that the conflict with the Palestinians is still here. We must remember, and remind the world, that our enemies deny our very existence in the Land of Israel, and that this is not a dispute over territory.
We need military strength, civil resilience and a belief in the justness of our path at times when the conflict raises its head.
I hope the ceasefire in the south is maintained. But if Hamas again chooses the path of violence against Israeli civilians, it will encounter a wall of iron.
Violence and terrorism are not a natural phenomenon or destiny with which we are supposed to just come to terms. The Palestinians must take responsibility for their actions, and understand that violence will be met with a firm response.
That said, security calm will lead to economic moves, which will lead to reducing friction and conflict.
To the Goldin, Shaul, Mengistu and Sayed families: The government led by me will work to bring home the IDF’s fallen and the Israeli citizens held in Gaza by Hamas. We see in their return a sacred duty, which should be undertaken out of responsibility.
The government will work to establish and expand peace agreements with the Arab states, to increase regional economic, entrepreneurial and cultural cooperation, and to deepen the direct connection between the peoples of the region, such as the connection between the citizens of Israel and the citizens of the United Arab Emirates.
Dear friends, on behalf of us all, I want to thank the president of the United States of America, Joe Biden, for standing alongside Israel during the last operation in Gaza, “Guardian of the Walls,” and for his longstanding commitment to the security of Israel.
President Biden said during the operation, “Until the region says, unequivocally, they acknowledge the right of Israel to exist as an independent Jewish state, there will be no peace.”
It is important that this message be heard, and internalized, in the Middle East.
We greatly appreciate the support of the United States, our greatest friend. My government will make an effort to deepen and nurture relations with our friends in both parties— bipartisan. If there are disputes, we will manage them with fundamental trust, and mutual respect.
My fellow members of Knesset, in light of the ongoing turbulent debate, the people are looking to the House. Let us maintain respectful debate. I understand those for whom today is difficult, but friends, this is not a day of mourning. There is no [2005 Gaza] disengagement here. There is no harm being caused to anyone. There is a change of government in a democracy. That’s it. And I assure [you] it is a government that will work for the sake of all the people. We will do all we can so that no one should have to feel afraid. We are here in the name of good, and to work. And I say to those who intend to celebrate tonight, don’t dance on the pain of others. We [are] not enemies, we are one people.
Now, hours before accepting this responsibility, I pray to God that He grant me wisdom and understanding to lead the State of Israel.
“Heavenly Father, Rock and Redeemer of Israel, bless the State of Israel, the first flourishing of our redemption, guard it in your abundant kindness, spread over it the shelter of Your peace. Send forth your light and truth to its leaders, ministers and advisers, and grace them with Your good counsel. Strengthen the hands of those who guard our holy land, grant them deliverance and adorn them in victory. Give peace in the land, and grant its inhabitants eternal happiness.”
With God’s help, we will do and we will succeed. Amen.
Members of Knesset, I am now honored to present before you the government what we have formed, in alphabetical order [in Hebrew]:
Naftali Bennett—Prime Minister and Minister for Settlement Affairs
Yair Lapid—Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Alternate Prime Minister
Ministers affiliated with the prime minister:
Ayelet Shaked—Minister of the Interior
Gideon Sa’ar—Minister of Justice
Ze’ev Elkin—Minister of Housing and Construction, Minister of Jerusalem and Heritage, and Minister Responsible for Government Liaison with the Knesset
Yoaz Hendel—Minister of Communications
Yifat Shasha-Biton—Minister of Education
Matan Kahana—Minister for Religious Affairs
Ministers affiliated with the alternate prime minister:
Avigdor Lieberman—Minister of Finance
Orit Farkash HaCohen—Minister of Science and Technology
Orna Barbivai—Minister of Economy
Benjamin Gantz—Minister of Defense
Hili Tropper—Minister of Culture and Sport
Hamad Amar—Minister in the Finance Ministry
Yoel Razvozov—Minister of Tourism
Meir Cohen—Minister of Labour, Welfare, and Social Services
Meirav Cohen—Minister of Social Equality
Merav Michaeli—Minister of Transport and Road Safety
Nachman Shai—Minister of Diaspora Affairs
Nitzan Horowitz—Minister of Health
Oded Forer—Minister of Agriculture and Development, and Minister of the Periphery, the Negev and the Galilee
Issawi Frej—Minister for Regional Cooperation
Omer Bar-Lev—Minister for Internal Security
Pnina Tamano Shata—Minister for Immigration and Absorption
Karine Elharrar—Minister for Energy
Tamar Zandberg—Minister for Environmental Protection
The date of the handover between the prime minister and the alternate prime minister is Aug. 27, 2023.
I request, Mr. Speaker, that the members of the Knesset express their support for the unity government, so that we may begin to restore stability and functionality to the State of Israel.
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