Who is Israel’s new Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu?

Israel’s longest-serving premier has ushered in the country’s most religious and hardline government in history.

Following his November 1 election win, veteran Israeli politician Benjamin Netanyahu, informally known as “Bibi”, has been sworn in as the country’s prime minister for his sixth term on December 29.

His new far-right government – the most religious and hardline in Israel’s history – is made up of ultraorthodox parties, an ultranationalist religious faction and his Likud party.

Netanyahu, who is also on trial for corruption, is already Israel’s longest-serving premier, and now ushers in Israel’s most right-wing government.

Here is all you need to know about Netanyahu:

Netanyahu’s background

  • Netanyahu’s mother, Tzila Segal, was an Israeli-born Jew and his father Benzion Netanyahu was a secular Jew from Poland. His father, born Benzion Mileikowsky, changed his name to Benzion Netanyahu after he settled in Palestine. He traces some of his roots to Spain.
  • He was born in Jaffa in 1949, before later being raised in Jerusalem and going to high school in the United States.
  • Netanyahu’s father was a “Revisionist Zionist” who believed that Israel should exist on both sides of the Jordan River, rejecting compromises with neighbouring Arab states.

Rise to power

  • Army captain: In 1967, Netanyahu joined the Israeli army and soon became an elite commando who served as captain during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.
  • Ambassador: In 1982, Netanyahu was appointed deputy chief of mission at the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC. In 1984, he was appointed Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.
  • Deputy foreign minister: In 1988, Netanyahu was appointed as deputy foreign minister in the cabinet of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.
  • Likud chairman: Rising to the post of the right-wing Likud party’s chairman in 1993, Netanyahu orchestrated the party’s return to political power after its defeat in the 1992 election.
  • Later on, Netanyahu lost the Likud leadership to Ariel Sharon, and regained it only after Sharon left Likud to form Kadima in 2005.
  • Prime minister: He served as premier from 1996 to 1999 and a record 12-year tenure from 2009 to 2021. This month marks his sixth term serving as prime minister.

Why is he facing trial?

  • Netanyahu stands accused of fraud, breach of trust, and corruption. He was indicted in 2019 in long-running cases involving gifts from millionaire friends and for allegedly seeking regulatory favours for media tycoons in return for favourable coverage.
  • He has denied any wrongdoing. He rejected calls to step down from the country’s leadership after being indicted in 2019 and has repeatedly lashed out at law enforcement, the media, and the courts for launching a “witch-hunt” against him.
  • The corruption allegations were one of the main factors in uniting Israeli politicians from across the political spectrum against him, which eventually led to him losing power after the March 2021 parliamentary elections.

What to expect from his government?

  • Among Netanyahu’s most controversial moves has been a coalition with several members of the Israeli far-right, including figures such as Itamar Ben-Gvir, who was previously a supporter of Kach, now considered a “terrorist” group in Israel. Netanyahu has given Ben-Gvir, who is now head of the Jewish Power party, an expanded security ministry to run.
  • Ben-Gvir, along with his fellow far-right leader and incoming minister Bezalel Smotrich, has a long history of using incendiary rhetoric against Palestinians. They oppose Palestinian statehood and support extending Israeli control over the occupied West Bank.
  • The incoming government has sparked fears of a military escalation in the West Bank amid the worst violence in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory for nearly 20 years.
  • In an interview with Channel 12 television late on Tuesday, outgoing Defence Minister Benny Gantz expressed “fear” over the “extremist direction” of the incoming government, which he said “could cause a security escalation”.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies