21st Israeli Knesset Sworn in After Hotly Contested Snap Election

President Reuven Rivlin tells the new lawmakers that their task is to form a 'joint home,' sounding criticism over racism aimed at Israel's Arab citizens

Israel's 21st Knesset being sworn in, April 30, 2019.
Kobi Gideon / GPO

Israel's 21st Knesset was sworn in Tuesday afternoon, three weeks after a hotly contested election that ended with the right-wing bloc in the lead. 

President Reuven Rivlin asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form the country's 35th government, giving him 16 days to do so. Netanyahu can request an extension of 14 additional 
days if he struggles to form a governing coalition. 

Forty-nine members of the new Knesset are newcomers to the Israeli parliament. The new Knesset voted to re-elected Likud's Yuli Edelstein as speaker, with four abstentions and no votes against him.

Speaking at the swearing-in ceremony in Jerusalem, Rivlin asked the new Knesset to "put an end to the dangerous clash between the legislative authority and the courts. I hope that the 21st Knesset will make a historic move by passing the Basic Law for Legislation, to set the groundwork for a future constitution." 

>> Read more: Israel's freshman lawmakers attend orientation

Rivlin further noted that one of the Knesset's biggest tasks in this term is "to fight over the togetherness." 

"It is time for us to fight for our joint home where secular, religious, ultra-Orthodox, Jews and Arabs can find themselves as equals." After saying the word "Arabs," Rivlin added: "Yes, they are called Arabs and there is nothing wrong in saying this." 

Rivlin was presumably addressing heightened tensions between Jewish and Arab Israeli citizens of the country, which came to a peak during the election campaign an especially during Election Day, when Likud activists placed hidden cameras at Arab polling stations in a move that was criticzed by many as an attempt at voter suppression.

The former Knesset passed the nation-state law, which defines Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people first and foremost and incensed many Israelis as well as the Arab and Druze communities in the country. 

Rivlin also addressed the new opposition lawmakers, telling them that it was "a great privilege to serve the people from the opposition, as much as it is a great responsibility. You asked the people to give you faith, and now that you have you must justify the faith they have given in you."

Earlier Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a Likud meeting that he may request a two-week extension for the formation of the new government, adding that he plans to personally speak with every minister and lawmaker.

Kahol Lavan co-leader Benny Gantz, who was Netanyahu’s biggest rival during the election campaign, meanwhile told his party that he will lead the opposition and that the party would not allow the government to be "a sanctuary city for those who break the law."

Yisrael Beytenu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman said ahead of the swearing-in that he hopes the Knesset will serve for four years and noted the fact that ultra-Orthodox parties, with whom he has clashed over legislation, received 22 seats, while his received five. The party will demand a minimal pension of 3,700-3,800 shekels for retirees and people with disabilities and to forbid rabbis from using DNA tests to try and prove whether someone is Jewish, Lieberman said. "As long as we have not reached agreements on core issues, we will not hold negotiations about portfolios," he added.