by Philissa Cramer
(JTA) — Benjamin Netanyahu has signed agreements with the leaders of three far-right political parties that, together with his own Likud party, will form the next Israeli coalition government.
On Twitter, Netanyahu, the incoming prime minister, also released his own list of principles for the next government, including among them indications of the governing partners’ widely known ambitions to reduce the power of Israel’s Supreme Court and bolster “Jewish identity.”
The agreements were a final step required before Netanyahu could be sworn in, and negotiations were underway until shortly before the deadline to reach them. While their contents are not legally binding, the agreements offer a window into the agenda that will drive the country’s leadership for as long as the government holds.
Netanyahu signed deals with three parties late Tuesday and early Wednesday, including one with with the far-right Otzma Yehudit party and its leader Itamar Ben-Gvir. Ben-Gvir, the incoming national security minister, had made a condition of his agreeing to work with Netanyahu that he would get unprecedented authority over the country’s police, and the Knesset passed a law early Wednesday granting just that, though without some of the powers that Ben-Gvir had sought.
Many of the other agreements made among the coalition partners have been reported during the weeks of negotiations, and others are becoming clear as the coalition agreements are published. Legislation is expected to permit more gender-segregated events as the result of Netanyahu’s agreement with the haredi Orthodox United Torah Judaism alliance, for example, and the right-wing party Noam will get 70 million NIS annually (almost $20 million) to create and operate a new “Department of State Jewish Consciousness.” That party’s leader, Avi Maoz, has described himself as a “proud homophobe.”
The alliance between Netanyahu and Israel’s far-right parties has alarmed many, including hundreds of U.S. rabbis who have pledged to block the parties’ leaders from their communities; longtime Jewish leaders who are questioning their unconditional support for Israel; Israeli liberals and moderates who fear that civil rights will be limited; and even the outgoing leader of the Israel Defense Forces, who urged Netanyahu not to insert extremists into the military chain of command.
Aiming to calm the fears of Americans, Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of the Religious Zionist party, took to the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal late Tuesday in a column titled “Israel’s New Government Isn’t What You’ve Heard.” The column was published hours before the Knesset paved the way for Smotrich, who will be finance minister, to take unprecedented authority over construction in the West Bank, his demand to enter a government with Netanyahu.
“They say I am a right-wing extremist and that our bloc will usher in a ‘halachic state’ in which Jewish law governs,” Smotrich writes. “In reality, we seek to strengthen every citizen’s freedoms and the country’s democratic institutions, bringing Israel more closely in line with the liberal American model.”
Netanyahu has also sought to quell the concerns of those, including U.S. leaders, who are alarmed by the coalition that he is firmly in control.
“They’re joining me, I’m not joining them,” he said earlier this month. “I’ll have two hands firmly on the steering wheel. I won’t let anybody do anything to LGBT [people] or to deny our Arab citizens their rights or anything like that.”
Late Tuesday, Netanyahu’s party picked Amir Ohana, a close ally and Israel’s first openly gay government minister, to be the Knesset speaker in the next government.
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