Political crisis looms as Israel’s ruling coalition loses its majority in parliament
An Israeli lawmaker quit the government’s wafer-thin ruling coalition Wednesday after infighting over bread in hospitals on the Jewish holiday of Passover, throwing the fragile alliance into disarray and depriving it of a majority in parliament.
Backbencher Idit Silman’s departure raises the possibility of new parliamentary elections less than a year after the government took office with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the helm. While Bennett’s government remains in power, it is now hamstrung in the 120-seat Knesset and will probably struggle to function.
Silman, from Bennett’s religious-nationalist Yamina party, had opposed allowing people to bring leavened bread and other foodstuffs into public hospitals during the Passover holiday, products prohibited according to religious tradition, public broadcaster Kan reported. For some devout Jews, the mere presence of such foods in the hospital is not kosher, but the country’s Supreme Court ruled in 2021 that hospitals could not bar people from doing so.
Bennett’s coalition of eight political parties, ranging from Islamists to hard-line Israeli nationalists — united solely in their opposition to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — now holds 60 seats in the Knesset.
But some members of Bennett’s party have been uncomfortable with its alliance with Islamist and liberal parties since the government’s inception in June. One party member broke ranks rather than be part of it.
Earlier in the week, 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.
At least 11 people have died in attacks in Israel by Arab militants in the last week, complicating efforts to maintain calm ahead of Ramadan.
Silman said in a letter to Bennett on Wednesday that “key values in my worldview are inconsistent with current reality” and that she could no longer stand to see those unspecified values harmed as a member of the coalition.
She urged the prime minister “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.”
The Knesset is in recess, and it is unclear whether the opposition will now have enough support to hold a no-confidence vote and send Israelis to the polls for the fifth time in slightly more than three years.
To topple the government, opposition lawmakers would need to secure 61 votes in favor of dissolving parliament or in favor of the formation of an alternative governing coalition. Netanyahu and other opposition politicians called on other members of Bennett’s party to follow Silman in order to achieve that aim.
Israel’s leader says that the country’s Omicron-driven wave ‘has been broken’ and that additional lifting of coronavirus restrictions is forthcoming.
“To friends still sitting in this coalition, I say: Come home,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “Join Idit Silman, join us, and together we will return Israel to the track of success, achievement, security and peace.”
Israel held four elections in two years in a protracted political crisis over Netanyahu’s fitness to rule while on trial for corruption. The deadlocked outcomes were finally broken in June when Bennett and his allies ousted Netanyahu after 12 years in office by cobbling together a coalition of unlikely allies.
Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute think tank, said that although 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.
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