May 5, 2006, Updated September 13, 2012

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert shakes hands with President Moshe Katsav during an official ceremony after the swearing in of the new government at the President’s residency in Jerusalem Thursday. (Photo: AP)Israel’s 31st government was officially sworn in on Thursday, with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pledging to work for the rights of the minorities.

“The gaps within Israeli society are unacceptable. The continued trend of widening gaps is a sure recipe for loss of social solidarity. The State of Israel will lose its moral standing if it evades its responsibility towards the weaker populations – the elderly, the pensioners, the Holocaust survivors, the disabled, the ailing, the children at risk, battered women and those targeted for illegal trade. It is first and foremost our duty towards our moral standards. The government will act tirelessly to reduce social and economic gaps,” he told the 17th Knesset, following the official ceremony at Beit Hanassi with President Moshe Katsav.

Taking the oath of office, Olmert, 60, completed a transition that began Jan. 4, when as deputy prime minister he took the reins of power after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had a massive stroke. Olmert’s governing coalition, whose main partners are his Kadima party and the Labor party, controls 67 seats in the 120-member parliament. The coalition also includes Shas and the Pensioners party.

Olmert noted that the appointment of Kadima MK Dalia Itzik to the position of Knesset Speaker was a first for the Knesset.

“This is the first time in the history of the State of Israel that a female member of Knesset is serving as Speaker. You have been given an amazing opportunity to shape its future proceedings, and determine, together with the members of Knesset, the patterns of work, relationships and content which will leave their mark on public life and the system of government of the State of Israel in the coming years,” he told Itzik.

Commenting on the previous day’s 58th Independence Day celebrations, Olmert said that the country had changed drastically since its 1948 inception.

“Yesterday, the State of Israel celebrated its 58th Independence Day. How great is the difference between the situation that the people of Israel were in on May 14, 1948 and our situation today. At the time of the Declaration of the Establishment of the State we stood, only three years after the Holocaust, with our backs to the wall. With meager resources and weaponry, we stood in a desperate military defensive against an invasion, whose declared purpose was the eradication of the newly born state. We were but a step away from extinction.

“From its birth, the State of Israel advocated two founding bases – the Jewish base and the democratic base: the supreme value of a “Jewish state”, at the same time with the uncompromising demand that the democratic state of Israel will provide “complete social and political equality to all its citizens, regardless of religion, race or gender.

“These two bases embody the core values of the renewed Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel. If you take one and disconnect if from the state, it is as if you cut off its lifeline. Therefore, those wishing to look directly into our past, see the reality of our lives and look to the future, must do so with both eyes open – the Jewish eye and the democratic eye. Only then, with both eyes open, do the colors of Israeli society come together into one clear, vivid and meaningful picture.

“This concept will guide us in our attitude towards every citizen, either Jewish or non-Jewish.”

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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