Who is leading Israel's new hardline government?

Protests in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv as country names its most right-wing cabinet yet

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Longtime Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu is back as Prime Minister, officially inaugurating his government on Thursday after a divisive election campaign and previous failed attempts to cobble together a cabinet.

Several thousand demonstrators stood outside the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on Thursday, with some saying “we don't want fascists” in parliament. A protest took place in Tel Aviv later in the day.

Mr Netanyahu was hoisted back to power in November on the back of an alliance of ultra-right and religious parties that now make up Israel's most right-wing government yet, threatening to push the Palestinian-Israeli conflict into deeper crisis.

Mr Netanyahu's Likud party dominates the largely male government, with women only holding five of the 30 ministries.

Several ministers will serve in more than one position, rotating halfway through the government's four-year term.

Here is a rundown of some of the biggest kingmakers in Israel's new cabinet.

Benjamin Netanyahu — Prime Minister

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the first cabinet meeting of his new government in Jerusalem. AFP

Israel's longest-serving prime minister, Mr Netanyahu previously served as head of government for 12 years and has now begun his sixth term in office.

As head of the conservative Likud party and a staunch opponent of Palestinian statehood, he has pledged place West Bank settlements, the expansion of the Abraham Accords and confronting Iran at the centre of government policy.

He still faces criminal proceedings for alleged corruption.

Mr Netanyahu has played down widespread concerns over the far-right nature of his new government, pledging a “liberal-right government”, with electricity permitted on Shabbat after rumours that his Ultra-Orthodox allies would introduce new measures irked Israel's largely secular population.

His predecessor, Yair Lapid, has used Twitter to issue a message to Mr Netanyahu.

“Try not to ruin the country,” Mr Lapid said.

Itamar Ben-Gvir — National Security Minister

Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israeli far-right politician and leader of the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish power) party. AFP

Mr Ben-Gvir is perhaps the most talked-about new minister, notorious for his ultra-far-right views and anti-Palestinian rhetoric. The head of Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power), Mr Ben-Gvir commands a large hardline fan base and lives in the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba.

He will assume control of Israel's police force as National Security Minister, and is to enjoy unprecedented powers after the Knesset passed a law that expanded his power earlier this week.

Under the new rules, Mr Ben-Gvir is now in charge of the country's police force and can direct general police and investigation policy.

He was previously a member of the banned Kahanist extremist group and was barred from the Knesset in 2007 for inciting racism.

Bezalel Smotrich — Finance Minister

Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionist Party. AFP

Head of the Religious Zionist party, Mr Smotrich was a key figure in propelling Mr Netanyahu back to power, and formed an alliance with Mr Ben-Gvir before the elections.

He will serve as Finance Minister and also serve in the Defence Ministry, assuming control for policies in the occupied West Bank.

The far-right leader is a known opponent of Palestinian statehood and grew up in West Bank settlements, where he still lives today.

Aryeh Deri — Interior Minister/Health Minister

Aryeh Deri attends a special session of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, to approve and swear in a new right-wing government. AP

Mr Deri is a founder of the Ultra-Orthodox Shas party, a key member of Mr Netanyahu's coalition.

Born in Morocco, he is a veteran politician and, at the age of 29, became Israel's youngest interior minister, before stints as finance minister, minister of the development of the Negev and Galilee and minister of religious affairs.

He has previously been jailed for bribery and was forced to quit politics in January after being convicted of tax offences. On Tuesday, a special law was passed allowing him to return to office, permitting politicians with criminal convictions who do not have to serve prison time to become ministers.

He will head both the interior and health ministries before taking control of the Finance Ministry from Mr Smotrich in two years.

Eli Cohen — Foreign Minister

The Likud politician and former intelligence chief with lead Israel's Foreign Ministry before rotating with colleague Yisrael Katz.

Mr Cohen was a key architect of the Abraham Accords and in January 2021 he became the first Israeli minister to visit Sudan.

Yoav Galant — Defence Minister

A former army general and immigration minister, Mr Galant oversaw the 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and is a staunch ally of Mr Netanyahu and advocate of Israeli settlements.

He entered politics as a member of Kulanu party before switching to Likud in 2019.

Ofir Sofer — Aliyah and Integration Minister

Young immigrants from Ukraine are given Israeli flags after arriving at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport in Lod in February. AFP

The Immigration Ministry has been given to the Religious Zionism party and may prove crucial to Israel's future relationship with the Jewish diaspora.

Under the Law of Return, any Jewish person or their spouse is eligible to move to Israel and claim automatic citizenship, known as “Aliyah”. This also applies to those who convert to Judaism and people with a Jewish grandparent, including their spouses.

The government is expected to make significant changes to the law, banning non-Orthodox converts from claiming Aliyah, a move expected to cause a particular rift with the US and its large community of largely Reform Jews, a liberal strand of Judaism, many of whom move to Israel.

It has also considered barring prospective immigrants from claiming the right to return through a Jewish grandparent, a route which has allowed hundreds of thousands of people to enter Israel from the former Soviet Union.

Religious Zionism has repeatedly called for the “grandparent clause” to be repealed, arguing many of the arrivals from Russia and Ukraine have Jewish heritage but are practising Christians.

However, various reports suggest the move will be blocked due to Likud's popularity among Russian-speaking Israelis.

Other ministers

National Missions: Orit Strook (Religious Zionist)

Intelligence: Gila Gamliel (Likud)

Heritage: Amichai Eliyahu (Otzma Yehudit)

Education: Haim Biton (Shas)

Housing: Yitzhak Goldknopf (United Torah Judaism)

Diaspora and Social Equality: Amichai Chikli (Likud)

Energy: Yisrael Katz (Likud)

Strategic Affairs: Ron Dermer (Likud)

Religious Services: Michael Malkieli (Shas)

Transport: Miri Regev (Likud)

Updated: December 30, 2022, 6:15 AM
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