By GK Teh
The five party coalition government making up the thirty-fourth Israeli cabinet was formed on May 14 2015, following elections in March 2015. The coalition comprises Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s centre-right party Likud, the centrist party Kulanu, and religious conservative parties United Torah Judaism, Shas and the Jewish Home. The coalition has already been described by The Guardian as ‘shaky’ and Foreign Policy as ‘a shaky mess’ for glaringly obvious reasons. With a measly single seat majority, although Likud is officially centre-right, Netanyahu has been pulled considerably towards the right since he was first appointed Prime Minister for a second time in 2009, and will only continue to be subject to such given the rise in the popularity of the Orthodox Jewish Home party.
The Jewish Home will further exacerbate tensions in Israel’s foreign policy if their influence in the Knesset goes unmoderated. It has done very well in promoting the notion amongst young Israelis that trendiness and political and religious orthodoxy are no longer oxymorons. Its image can largely be credited to its leader, Naftali Bennett. Bennett rose from relative obscurity to acclaim as a tangible candidate for future prime minister during the campaigning period for this election a la David Cameron’s rise in 2005.
Young and charismatic, Bennett often led Jewish Home campaigns in jeans. Fluent in English and Hebrew, his popularity and ability to engage with Israeli youths could hardly go unnoticed. This demeanour, unfortunately, masks a rather sinister political ideology. Bennett’s hardline right wing stance has long been evident, with him stating in a 2012 debate on CNN that ‘there is a wrong side and a right side’ in Israel’s conflict with the Palestine. His views are directly at odds with mounting international pressure to pursue a pacifist settlement, particularly given US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman’s criticism of the Israeli government’s indifference to the need to implement a two state solution to the Eretz’s longstanding conflict with the Palestine.
Rather worryingly, a 2014 poll found that 39% of the Israeli population believed Bennett should be Prime Minister, compared to 28% who voted for Netanyahu. Despite all evidence presented above, it remains to be seen how persistent the coalition will be in pursuing its policies, with the cabinet keenly aware of the strength of the fifty-nine seat strong opposition led by the Zionist Union whom, at twenty-four seats, won just six fewer than Netanyahu’s Likud.