As a New Israeli Parliament Is Sworn In, President Urges Unity, Netanyahu Pleads With Rivals to 'Stop Boycotts'

Knesset speaker from Netanyahu's party takes a jab at Israel's judiciary in opening speech, saying 'democracy is better than a regime of judges who intervene without authority'

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
Israeli party leaders pose for a family photo after the new Knesset was sworn in, on Tuesday.
Israeli party leaders pose for a family photo after the new Knesset was sworn in, on Tuesday.Credit: Marc Israel Sellem
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Israel's 24th Knesset was sworn in on Tuesday amid uncertainty as to whether it would dissolve in a matter of weeks or serve a full term, while stalled coalition talks took the stage in leaders' opening speeches.

President Reuven Rivlin said in his speech at the parliamentary hall that "unless we find a modern model of Israeliness which provides a place for each of Israel's tribes, unless we find a model for partnership that allows us to coexist out of mutual respect and out of true commitment to each other – the resilience of our nation will face grave danger."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that "We must stop the boycotts" of particular politicians in order to establish a government, hinting that former allies Gideon Sa'ar and Naftali Bennett should join him in forming a coalition. Earlier Tuesday, Rivlin tasked Netanyahu with forming a government.

Rivlin chose not to join in the traditional photograph with the prime minister, speaker of the Knesset and Supreme Court president. When he finished speaking, he invited outgoing Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin to conduct the swearing-in ceremony.

"Democracy is better than a regime of civil servants who use their power in order to influence the elected leaders or to thwart their policies, and it is better than a regime of judges who intervene without authority in legislation and especially in the basic laws," Levin said, alluding to key talking points by Netanyahu supporters, who seek to limit the judiciary's powers and claim the corruption trial against the prime minister is a conspiracy to take him down.

He called on party leaders to "put an end to put an end to the boycotts and disqualification of individuals and to establish a stable government based on a parliamentary majority. This is possible; all it takes is some good will."

Members of the Arab-majority Joint List tried to add pledges against racism and the occupation of the Palestinian territories to their swearing in. Levin told them that it invalidates their pledge, and that they must use the official language for the ceremony.

Mansour Abbas, head of the Islamist United Arab List party, was hospitalized on Tuesday morning with urolithiasis. The MK, considered to be a kingmaker, was not present for the ceremony.

Seventeen of the lawmakers sworn in on Tuesday are first-time Knesset members.

Protesters carry LGBTQ flags outside of the Knesset, today.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Outside the building, hundreds of protesters representing more than 40 LGBTQ and women's and human rights groups demonstrated against allowing any lawmakers promoting hate against women and the LGBTQ community to join a new coalition.

They were particularly directed against Noam party chairman Avi Maoz, who was elected to the Religious Zionism slate, and against Mansour Abbas. Maoz has stated his intentions to fight against LGBTQ families and women's rights, and Abbas waged an anti-LGBTQ campaign within the Arab community.

Tasks at hand

Should Netanyahu fail to form a government so within the 28 days allotted to him, the president will give the mandate to another lawmaker, or Israel may hold its fifth election in two years.

One major job the new Knesset will have to do even if no government is formed is electing the next president. By law, the Knesset must choose a new president by June 9, a month before Rivlin’s seven-year term ends.

Levin's term as speaker is also ending, but it is not yet clear when it lapses. The bloc opposed to Netanyahu sees gaining control of the speaker’s office as tactically important and hopes to replace him swiftly with Meir Cohen (Yesh Atid), Gideon Sa’ar (New Hope) or Ayelet Shaked (Yamina).

If a government is formed, it will face two urgent tasks – swiftly passing a budget for the current year and drafting new legislation to govern military draft exemptions for yeshiva students. The latter task has proven impossible for previous governments that included the ultra-Orthodox parties.

Lee Yaron and Noa Shpigel contributed to this report.

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