Who are the ministers leading Israel’s new far-right government?

Top ministers in Israel’s new right-wing, religiously conservative cabinet headed by Benjamin Netanyahu include illegal settlers.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Aryeh Deri
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu with new Interior Minister Aryeh Deri [File: Sebastian Scheiner/Reuters]

Benjamin Netanyahu returns as Israeli prime minister for a sixth time, despite being embroiled in a corruption trial.

Netanyahu’s government – the most right-wing in the country’s history – was sworn in on Thursday. It includes ultranationalist and ultraorthodox Jewish parties.

Some ministers in the new government have pledged to expand illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, while others have openly opposed Palestinian statehood.

Here is a list of the top members of Netanyahu’s cabinet:

Parliament Speaker Amir Ohana

Former minister Amir Ohana is Israel’s first openly gay speaker of parliament.

A member of parliament since 2015, the Likud party member is the third most senior figure after the president and prime minister, according to the country’s constitution.

In 2019, he became the first gay man to hold a ministerial post when he was selected as Netanyahu’s justice minister.

Defence Minister Yoav Galant

A member of Netanyahu’s far-right Likud party, Galant, 64, began his military service as a navy frogman and had been slated to become head of the army in 2011.

But he stepped aside over allegations that he carried out building work on his home without a permit.

Since entering politics in 2015, he has served as minister for education, housing and immigration – and has been a prominent backer of Israel’s settlements, regarded as illegal under international law.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich

An illegal settler in the occupied West Bank who heads the hardline Religious Zionism Party, Smotrich will lead the treasury under a rotation deal with Aryeh Deri from the religious Shas Party.

After his recent remarks that Israel would prosper if it embraced Biblical values raised concerns, Smotrich clarified that he champions free markets.

Smotrich, 42, opposes Palestinian statehood. In the past, he has agitated against Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, condemned LGBTQ activists and called the justice system too liberal. He now says he will serve all Israelis. He previously served as transport minister.

His new cabinet duties include a role within the defence ministry overseeing illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, which he wants to see expanded and, eventually, annexed by Israel.

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen

As intelligence minister in a previous Netanyahu government, Cohen, 50, has supported United States-sponsored normalisation deals between Israel and several Arab countries. He is a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir

An illegal settler in the occupied West Bank who heads the far-right Jewish Power Party, Ben-Gvir secured an expanded cabinet ministry in charge of police. He has promised to focus on law and order for all citizens, but he favours freer open-fire regulations for Israeli security forces.

FILE PHOTO: Jewish Power party leader Itamar Ben-Gvir speaks following the announcement of exit polls in Israel's general election, at his party headquarters in Jerusalem November 2, 2022. REUTERS/Corinna Kern REFILE - CORRECTING DATE/File Photo
Jewish Power Party leader Itamar Ben-Gvir is a prominent far-right face [File: Corinna Kern/Reuters]

Ben-Gvir, 46, opposes Palestinian statehood and advocates the dismantling of the interim Palestinian Authority government.

He once belonged to Kahane Chai, a Jewish armed group that is blacklisted in Israel and the United States. He has since disavowed some Kahane views.

In 2007, he was convicted of incitement against Palestinians and support for terrorism. He is now a lawyer.

Interior and Health Minister Aryeh Deri

Deri, 63, an ultraorthodox rabbi, is the veteran leader of Shas, which draws support from religious Jews of Middle Eastern descent. His appointment to the new Netanyahu government has been challenged in Israel’s Supreme Court given his conviction for tax fraud – without prison time – last year.

In 1999, Deri was sentenced to three years in jail for taking bribes. He returned to politics in 2012. Under his coalition deal, he will become finance minister in two years.

Shas, along with another ultraorthodox party, United Torah Judaism, has long raised concerns among secular liberals by demanding welfare benefits and military draft exemptions for its constituents.

Housing Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf

A leader of United Torah Judaism, which draws support from religious Jews of European descent, 72-year-old Golfknopf is a newcomer to national politics. He made headlines when he denied knowledge of a crisis over a shortage of housing that has priced out many Israelis.

Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer

A former ambassador to Washington, Dermer was key to forging Israeli ties with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in 2020 under a series of normalisation deals brokered by the US.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies