[UPDATED – 8:20 p.m.]
To jeers of "traitor," "liar" and even "criminal," Naftali Bennett was heckled by Knesset members as the parliament began officials ceremonies to swear in the new government on Sunday afternoon.
“I am proud of the ability to sit with people with very different opinions,” he said. “At the decisive moment we took responsibility.”
“It is time for responsible leaders ... to stop this madness,” he said speaking of the ongoing cycle of elections over the past two years that failed to result in a stable government.
Israeli media categorized the ceremony as the outer fringe of democracy, rife with disrespect and nearly violent. The harassment of Bennet was so bad that alternate Prime Minister- and Foreign Minister-designate Yair Lapid refused to speak, saying his 86-year-old mother “is ashamed of you and remembers clearly why it is time to replace you,” he told lawmakers.
However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left no doubt of his dominance on the Israeli political scene.
In a defiant and blistering speech on Sunday afternoon, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tore into his successor and set the tone for the opposition that he will be leading for the first time after being prime minister in the past 12 years. He undermined the nascent government before it even got sworn in. Naftali Bennett’s speech could barely be heard above the incessant heckling and will likely be remembered for that rather than its content. (Here is a link to his speech in full.)
Bennett started by thanking Netanyahu and his wife Sara Netanyahu: “You both sacrificed a great deal for the State of Israel.”
But he could barely get in a complete sentence. Several Knesset members were forcibly removed by security when they refused to heed calls from the Knesset speaker to be quiet.
Bennett credited Netanyahu with “paving the road” to cooperation an Arab party, Ra’am, whose leader – Mansour Abbas – Netanyahu courted to be in his own government.
“We understand the difficulties and needs of the Arab public,” Bennett said.
Bennett also appealed to the ultra-Orthodox saying his government would represent them as well.
On foreign policy, he said “renewing the nuclear deal is a mistake.”
“Israel will not allow Iran to attain nuclear weapons. Israel is not a party to the deal and will maintain full freedom to act,” he said
A visibly upset and defiant Netanyahu responded during his turn at the podium, recalling his accomplishments such as the millions of COVID vaccines he brought to Israel, strides in foreign policy and the signing of the historic Abraham Accords in addition to his personal sacrifices as a citizen and soldier.
"I almost lost my life several times serving my country," he said.
He said he represents millions of Israeli residents that voted for a right-wing government – and vowed to bring down “this dangerous government.”
He said Bennett does not have the standing or the knowledge to represent Israel in the international arena.
"The prime minister of Israel needs to be able to say 'no' to the president of the United States about things that endanger Israel," he said, slamming his former protege.
Competing gatherings at two separate locations underscore the competing sentiments raging within the Israeli populace: At the Western Wall, hundreds of religious Zionist Jews joined a prayer rally against the new government; Meanwhile hundreds of Israelis celebrated the end of the Netanyahu era in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square.
Abbas, head of Ra’am – the Arab party that made history by joining the coalition – addressed the Knesset in Arabic and said it’s time to advance Jewish-Arab “dialogue, so that we understand each other and not view each other as enemies.”
“We belong to other nations, to other religions, to other communities. There is something that connects all Israelis and that’s our citizenship,” he said.
Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS