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Israel’s Government in Crisis After Senior Lawmaker Quits Coalition

todayApril 6, 2022

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JERUSALEM — Israel’s fragile government was thrown into crisis on Wednesday after a senior lawmaker quit the coalition, leaving it without a majority in Parliament.

Idit Silman, the chairwoman of the governing coalition and effectively its chief whip, said in a letter to Naftali Bennett, the prime minister, that she was resigning because coalition colleagues had failed to compromise and the government’s direction did not reflect the values of most Israelis. She said she would attempt to form a new coalition with right-wing lawmakers, according to a separate statement published by N12, one of Israel’s main private news groups.

The move followed prolonged tensions among leftist, secular, Arab and right-wing members of the coalition, a fractious group of eight parties which only agreed to work together last June after four inconclusive elections in two years had left the country without a functional government or a state budget.

The issue came to a head this week after the left-wing health minister, Nitzan Horowitz, instructed officials to uphold a Supreme Court decision allowing patients to bring leavened bread into hospitals during the upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover. Ms. Silman, a right-wing and religious lawmaker, opposed the measure, which contravenes Jewish law.

“I won’t be able to lend a hand to the damage to the State of Israel’s and the Israeli people’s Jewish character,” Ms. Silman said in her statement to N12. “I am ending my membership in the coalition and I will continue to try to persuade my colleagues to return home and to form a right-wing government. I know that I’m not the only one who feels this way.”

Her resignation means the government can only count on the support of 60 members in the 120-seat parliament, losing the razor-thin one-seat majority it has had since June.

But her departure from the coalition does not mean the government will immediately collapse or give a parliamentary majority to the opposition, which is led by Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister. Mr. Netanyahu welcomed Ms. Silman’s decision in a brief video posted on social media, and he encouraged other right-wing members of the coalition to follow her example

Parliament is also on recess for another five weeks, so there will not be a vote of no confidence in the government in the near future. But once it is back in session, the government will be unable to pass legislation without the support of opposition lawmakers and this could encourage other disgruntled members of the coalition to announce their resignations, as well.

A spokeswoman for Naftali Bennett, the prime minister and head of Ms. Silman’s party, Yamina, declined to comment immediately.

Ms. Silman did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

While the timing of Ms. Silman’s resignation was a surprise, the coalition was always fragile and few analysts expected it to last a full four-year term. Its one-seat majority always meant that just a single defection would be enough to threaten the government’s collapse.

The eight parties in the coalition shared little in coming together last summer beyond their desire to oust Mr. Netanyahu, who had refused to resign despite standing trial for corruption. This prompted some of his long-term allies to leave his party and form their own right-wing factions.

Most of the parties did not initially want to join forces, and only did so because they considered the alternatives — either a fifth election or joining forces with Mr. Netanyahu — even worse.

Despite their differences, the coalition managed to unite on some key issues — most notably passing the first state budget in more than three years. But they clashed regularly over the rights of and funding for Israel’s Arab minority, the relationship between state and religion, and Israeli policy in the occupied West Bank.

Most groups within the coalition came under intense criticism, and sometimes abuse, from their base for allying with their political opponents and for making compromises that contradicted their political ideals.

Right-wing lawmakers like Ms. Silman were subjected to particularly strong hostility, with protesters picketing her home last summer and bombarding her with offensive text messages.

Arriving at her synagogue last June, she found several posters fixed on a wall outside, each with her portrait overlaid with the slogan that read, “Idit Silman stitched together a government with terror supporters.”

Reporting was contributed by Rawan Sheikh Ahmad from Haifa, Israel, and Gabby Sobelman from Rehovot, Israel.

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