Bennett Coalition Govt in Israel on Verge of Collapsing as Chairwoman Bolts Over Religious Issues
Edited by: Fern Sidman
A lawmaker quit Israel’s ruling coalition on Wednesday after a dispute over religious observance during the Passover holiday, throwing the fragile alliance into disarray without a majority in parliament and raising the prospect of a new round of elections, according to an AP report.
Backbencher Idit Silman had recently objected to the government allowing bread to be brought into public hospitals, counter to the Jewish religious practice of refraining from bread and other leavened foods during Passover. Hospitals cater to patients of all religions.
But there were also indications that Silman, a religious lawmaker with strong nationalist views, had been uneasy sitting in Israel’s diverse coalition and had been plotting her exit for some time, the AP reported.
“Key values in my worldview are inconsistent with current reality,” Silman wrote in a letter to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, adding that she could no longer stand to see those unspecified values harmed as a member of the coalition.
She urged him “to acknowledge the truth: we tried. The time has come to think of a new course. To try to form a nationalist, Jewish, Zionist government.”
Her decision raises the possibility of new parliamentary elections, less than a year after the government took office. The AP reported that while Bennett’s government remains in power, it is now hamstrung in the 120-seat parliament and will likely struggle to function.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz tweeted Wednesday evening that he had spoken to Bennett “and we will work and try to preserve the government,” as was reported by the AP.
Bennett’s coalition of eight political parties, ranging from Islamists to hard-line nationalists and dovish liberals, now holds 60 seats in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.
The coalition came together last June, bound by little more than a shared opposition to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Some members of Bennett’s Yamina party, which promotes a religious, nationalist agenda, have been uncomfortable with the union with Islamist and liberal parties since the government’s inception in June, as was reported by the AP. One party member broke ranks rather than be part of it. Silman followed suit on Wednesday.
Israeli media reported that Bennett sought to rally members of his party at a meeting on Wednesday, saying other parties in the coalition remain onboard.
Earlier in the week, thew AP reported that Silman feuded with Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, head of the dovish and secular Meretz Party, over his determination that hospitals uphold the law and not bar people from bringing bread in during Passover.
The Knesset is currently in recess, and it remains unclear if the opposition will now have enough support to hold a no-confidence vote and send Israelis to the polls for the fifth time in just over three years, as was reported by the AP.
To topple the government, opposition lawmakers would need to secure 61 votes in favor of dissolving parliament — or as many in favor of the formation of an alternate governing coalition.
Netanyahu, who led Israel for the previous 12 years, has been working as opposition leader to unravel the coalition by trying to lure members of Bennett’s party. Netanyahu and other opposition politicians called on other members to follow Silman in order to achieve that aim.
“To friends still sitting in this coalition, I say: come home,” Netanyahu said, as was reported by the AP. “Join Idit Silman, join us, and together we will return Israel to the track of success, achievement, security and peace.”
Israel National News reported that thousands of people gathered for a right-wing demonstration in Jerusalem Wednesday night, coincidentally taking place after the political bomb dropped by Idit Silman.
At the demonstration, Netanyahu said: “It is time to return home, put aside all the grudges of the past and return to the national camp.”
“Our door is open to anyone who is elected by the right and wants to return the State of Israel to the path of values, strength and victory, to our unity that has a purpose – to serve all the citizens of the state. ‘When we were not united we got this failed government. We came to tell this weak and dangerous government: ‘Go home,'” the Likud chairman said, as was reported by INN.
While the Passover dispute had garnered headlines in recent days, Israeli media say Silman had been planning to leave the coalition for a while.
The AP reported that Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute think tank, said that while Silman’s departure didn’t bring down the government, it does bring the country “back to political crisis mode.”
“Bennett’s government loses its majority in parliament and its degree of freedom to maneuver, to pass legislation, to gain majority for its decisions,” Plesner said.
INN also reported that MK Miki Zohar from the Likud said that “many of the MKs who are right-wing really understand that this coalition has fallen – and are already examining their options. I am very optimistic about the fall of this government.”
The chairman of the Religious Zionism Party, MK Bezalel Smotrich, told Israel National News: “The masses here represent the majority of the people of Israel. They represent the majority in the Knesset. People preferred personal desires over the will of the people. The right thing is to put the State of Israel at the forefront and establish a right-wing government during this Knesset.. Bennett is history and I suggest not engaging with him. As for Idit, it is true that we criticized her very much, but now she deserves all our praise and strengthening.”
In an interview with Israel National News, Likud MK Ofir Akunis praised the decision of Yamina MK Idit Silman to bolt the coalition, and said he believes the coalition cannot feasibly continue.
“I think that this is the last day of the current coalition, this is the last day of the current government,” Akunis told INN. “I don’t know if we’ll find ourselves in new elections or in a new coalition in the current Knesset but this is the last days.”
To create a new government, the opposition would need to form a coalition from the current members of the Knesset, which Akunis describes as “not so easy.”
“But in Israeli politics, you can never say never,” he said, according to the INN report.
Akunis commented that Silman’s decision to leave the coalition was courageous.
“She’s a very brave woman. This is a huge problem here, i’m talking about the policy, about the Jewish ideas, let’s say the Orthodox ideas. With the current coalition members… she said to herself that she can not live anymore with the policy. I’m not talking about only the two-state solution… [but also] about Jewish identity issues.”
Akunis noted that with the government coalition now having only 60 seats, the same as the opposition, the coalition can’t pass any new proposed laws in the upcoming summer session, as was reported by INN.
He also criticized Minister of Defense Benny Gantz for preferring to join the current government.
“Mr. Gantz missed this opportunity in November,” he said. “During the days of the end of October, I said that if he wants to he will be the next prime minister until the end of November. He said ‘No’ and he preferred to be part of the current government. So I don’t think that [the next prime minister] will be Benny Gantz and I don’t think that it will be [Minister of Justice] Gideon Sa’ar. But you must remember that Israeli politics is very interesting, much more than other parliaments around the world, because we are Jewish, because we are Israelis, because it’s with a lot of hutzpah. So if he will change his mind, this is very interesting.” (Sources: AP, INN)