Outgoing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held a handover ceremony and briefing for new Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Thursday, hours after the Knesset voted to dissolve and hold elections in November.
Lapid will take over as Prime Minister at midnight. He will also continue in his current role as Foreign Minister.
“This special role and this land does not belong to just one person, but to the entire Israeli people,” Bennett said.
“I hand you the holy baton and responsibility for the State of Israel. I hope you protect it and God protects you.”
Lapid told Bennett that their brief ceremony wasn’t a “farewell party” because “we’re not breaking up with you.”
“I’ve worked under prime ministers, I know prime ministers. You are a good man and an excellent Prime Minister, and you are a good friend,” Lapid told Bennett.
In a gesture of affection, Bennett blessed Lapid with a prayer customarily recited by parents over their children at the start of the Sabbath, and Lapid said his mother had done the same shortly before. “Even secular people [do it]’ Lapid said with a smile.
Regarding the challenges of the prime minister’s office, Lapid said: “We will do our best for a Jewish, democratic state, good and strong and successful, because that is the task and it is bigger than all of us.”
A statement from the prime minister’s office said the handover process was “organized and thorough” and covered security and diplomatic matters, without elaborating.
Members of their respective associates and families also attended the ceremony.
Earlier Thursday, Lapid visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.
The trip was seen as somewhat unorthodox, as the far more common choice for an incoming prime minister or president’s first public visit is the Western Wall. However, unlike the orthodox Bennett, Lapid is secular.
Lapid said he visited the memorial to honor his father, who survived the Holocaust.
“Immediately after the vote, I went to Yad Vashem. There I promised my late father that I would always keep Israel strong and able to defend itself and protect its children,” Lapid said in a statement.
Lapid’s father, Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, was born in Serbia, but the family was captured by the Nazis and later taken to the Budapest ghetto.
Tommy’s father was killed in a concentration camp while Tommy and his mother were rescued by Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat known to save thousands of Jews from the Nazis.
Tommy Lapid eventually moved to Israel where he became a well-known journalist, playwright and eventually MK and government minister.
Later Thursday, Lapid and his wife Lihi met with President Isaac Herzog and his wife Michal at the President’s residence.
Herzog congratulated the new prime minister and offered him his “help and support as I have done with any other prime minister, and the same with you”.
He also noted that the upcoming elections, held so close to the previous four since 2019, are putting pressure on the country and urged Lapid to remember that his first priority is to run the government.
“We must above all remember that there is first and foremost a country to govern, a country to lead, a country that must attend to the needs of its citizens, even if there are elections,” he said. “Five elections in such a short time is very unhealthy for a country.”
Lawmakers have approved November 1 as the date for the next elections, which will be the fifth Israel will hold in three and a half years amid a period of political instability.
Lapid will officially take up the role of interim prime minister between midnight Thursday and Friday, holding the post during the elections and until a new coalition is formed.
Bennett will serve as Deputy Prime Minister. He announced on Wednesday that he would not stand in the upcoming elections.