For the first time in 12 years, Israel’s parliament voted to unseat Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister in favor of a new coalition government made up of eight different political parties that span the right to the left on the political spectrum. The coalition has named Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing Yamina party, to be prime minister for the first two years of the coalition’s four-year term. The last two years will be led by Yair Lapid of the centrist Yesh Atid party, who built the coalition.
AtTheU spoke with Amos Guiora, a professor of law at the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah. Guiora has published extensively on issues related to enablers in sexual assaults, institutional complicity, bystanders, national security, limits of interrogation, and human rights. He served in the Israel Defense Forces as a Lieutenant Colonial for 19 years, including as legal advisor to the Gaza Strip.
Guiora splits his time between Salt Lake City and Jerusalem, Israel where he has been living for the past two months.
You’re in Israel right now. How do you feel about the new coalition government coming into power?
Full disclosure—I’ve been involved in weekly rallies against Benjamin Netanyahu at the prime minister’s house. The reason is that I think that a prime minster who has been indicted for corruption, bribery and breach of trust can’t serve as prime minister, even though the law does not forbid that. The law prevents a minister from serving in government if under indictment, but not the prime minister.
For people of my political tilt, there’s a sense that Netanyahu was destroying state intuitions— he was actively trying to cause significant harm to the justice ministry, the courts, and other state organs. He’s on trial as we speak and, those of my political ilk would suggest that he is making every effort to make sure the trial does not proceed.
This election has been called historic. Why is this that?
The new government is called the “change” government. It’s a unique coalition comprised of eight different parties ranging from the political left and the political right. In Israel, the words right and left have only one definition – it’s how you view the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
What makes it unique is a number of things. We certainly have not had such a broad coalition government covering the spectrum of left to right, but there are two other prominent reasons. One is that for the first time in Israel history, a member of an Israeli Arab party is in the government. The second thing that makes it unique is that the new prime minister, Bennet, is what in America we would call modern orthodox and here, we would call it religious nationalist. He is the first prime minister to wear a kippah, also known as a yarmulke, in the Israeli government. It’s also the first time in at least 12 years that the orthodox Jewish parties are not represented in the government. The orthodox parties are considered the allies of Netanyahu’s Likud party.
In terms of the right-left makeup of the coalition, there’s Meretz, which is the left-wing party and Labor, which is center-left, and they would very much be in favor of a Palestinian state as a resolution of the conflict. Bennet’s party is right wing and oppose a Palestinian State; however, he’s considered liberal on social issues. The other parties are centrist. But truth be told, on Bennet’s to do list, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a priority. All parties want to preserve-restore the country’s institutions and ensure healthy functioning of government.
How will the leadership work?
It’s a rotational government, Bennet will be prime minister for the first two years, Lapid thereafter for the next two years. Lapid’s party is the largest in the coalition, but Bennet’s party is the swing party. In order to bring them into the coalition to defeat Netanyahu, Lapid had to offer the first rotation for prime minister to Bennet. It’s not only for the votes—if this government lasts four years, Lapid will be prime minister for the last two years.
Why would these disparate parties come together?
I think the reason that these eight parties came together is one, they’re against Netanyahu, and two, I think they are going to seek to reestablish a sense of normalcy as in, respect for norms, a respect for democratic values. But—and there are some buts here, as there will be challenges. We have violence in Gaza, there are obvious other tensions, particularly Iran. Bennet is going to have to deal with Hamas, he’s going to have to establish relations with President Biden, particularly with respect to Iran, and the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, while also trying to restore norms of democracy and a civil society.
Are you optimistic that this coalition will survive?
Well, it’s too early. Am I happy? Yes, absolutely because I’m convinced that the eight of them understand the task at hand, I’m convinced that they are not corrupt, I’m convinced that they have no intention of destroying state institutions. And I believe — I’m not naïve, I’ve been around the block—that they will respect the judiciary. The government ministers that were named strike me as competent, and are not going to engage in the unhinged incitement unlike the Netanyahu government. Netanyahu incited against the left, incited against the media, incited against Arabs, and that’s just not going to be the way that this government operates. For me, that’s a welcome relief.
I’m also aware that they have huge challenges. But I have a sense that they’ll be guided by state interest rather than personal interest.