Photo Credit: Oliver Fitoussi / Flash 90
New Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett addresses the Knesset at the swearing in of the new Israeli government, in the parliament in Jerusalem on June 13, 2021.

Prime Minister-elect Naftali Bennett faced his first challenge in the Knesset on Sunday afternoon, as a large number of Israeli lawmakers loudly protested and heckled the new head of state when he addressed the parliament – including while he thanked the outgoing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his 15 years of service.

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“Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister for your service over the years and your achievements for the State of Israel,” Bennett said. “As prime minister you worked for many years to strengthen the country and its security.”

Knesset Members from Likud and Religious Zionism attempted to drown out Bennett with their shouts.

“The loud tone of the screams is the same as the failure to govern during your term in office,” Bennett responded.

Outgoing Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin attempted to quiet the hall, and when his efforts failed, began to order the ejection of those who would not be silent.

Right-wing MKs Bezalel Smotrich and his fellow party members – Otzmah Yehudit leader Itamar Ben-Gvir and Orit Stroock – were escorted from the hall, along with Likud MKs Mai Golan, Shas MK Moshe Abutbul, and United Torah Judaism MK Yitzhak Pindrus.

Bennett was also heckled by members of the Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, who called him a “liar” and a “cheat” as he vowed to help the Haredi-religious sector even though its parties are not in the new government.

Bennett compared the lawmakers in the opposition to the zealots of the Second Temple era who led the nation to destruction; he expressed pride in being able to sit with those “who have very different opinions” from his own.

“The government that is being formed represents many Israelis from Efrat to Tel Aviv,” he said. “After two and a half years of paralysis, we will remove obstacles and make progress.”

Part of that progress apparently includes the closure of a number of ministries, including that of Water, which will be integrated with the Energy Ministry.

Bennett announced that daycare from infancy will be added to the responsibilities of the Education Ministry, the age of exemption from IDF service for Haredi young men will be dropped from 24 to 21, improving housing availability in the Haredi sector, and “guaranteeing the national interest in Area C.”

Bennett also vowed to “deal with the biggest threat, the Iran nuclear project,” and to respond to escalations by Gaza’s Hamas terrorist rulers with “an iron wall.”

He ended his remarks with a prayer that his government will do what it must to serve the nation.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.