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Bennett tells Yamina members Silman ‘broke’ under pressure, Israel needs stability

Attempting to rally his crumbling party at emergency meeting, PM says only alternative to current government is more elections; he reportedly comes under fire from faction members

Opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. (Menahem Kahana/AFP; Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
Opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. (Menahem Kahana/AFP; Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held an emergency meeting of his Yamina faction on Wednesday following the shock resignation of the party’s coalition whip Idit Silman, a move that deprived the government of its parliamentary majority, amid murmurs of further potential defections from party members.

Hebrew media reports indicated the atmosphere at the meeting was tense, with MKs accusing the premier of neglecting his party’s core values and adopting a far too centrist approach since taking office.

Bennett, meanwhile, said he sought coalition stability and attempted to project confidence in his government’s odds of recovering from the blow.

“The main thing we need to currently be dealing with is the stability of the faction and of the coalition,” Bennett said in a statement issued following the meeting. “I spoke with all of the party leaders — everyone wants to continue with this government. This government is working on behalf of the citizens of the country.”

The prime minister said that there is “an opportunity here to take this event, to learn from it and to fix the gaps that have been created… the alternative is more elections and maybe more elections after that, and a return to the days of dangerous instability.”

Bennett did not publicly criticize Silman, a member of his own party, for her decision to defect from the government, leaving it teetering on the brink of dissolution.

“Idit suffered persecution for months, verbal harassment at the worst level” by supporters of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and far-right Religious Zionism party head Bezalel Smotrich, he said.

“She described to me the threats to the workplace of her husband and to the Bnei Akiva [youth group] of her kids. In the end she broke.”

Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett holds a press conference at a military base, near the West Bank settlement of Beit El, April 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

After the meeting, unnamed officials in Yamina told Channel 12 they were optimistic that “the bleeding has stopped” and no further defections were imminent.

But the network reported that Yamina MK Abir Kara had held discussions with Silman and was seriously considering quitting the coalition himself. And multiple media reports said MK Nir Orbach lashed out at the prime minister at the meeting, accusing him of neglecting his party’s ideology.

“Your use of the term ‘West Bank’ [rather than Judea and Samaria] is unacceptable,” Orbach said of Bennett’s comments, maligned by the right, during his meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken last month.

“It’s not connected to any of the other parties in the coalition. It’s paying an ideological price in our own home base for nothing. You’ve put me in an impossible situation,” he said, according to Channel 12.

A Yamina official cited by Channel 12 said that Bennett and other coalition leaders were “living in a fantasy world” if they think they can salvage the current government. The official claimed that there are two Yamina members who have already said they would defect to an alternate right-wing coalition if one presents itself.

MK Nir Orbach reacts during a discussion on the Electricity Law connecting to Arab and Bedouin towns, during a plenum session in the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, January 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Earlier, opposition leader and head of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu called Bennett’s coalition “weak and flaccid,” estimating that it would collapse within a few days.

Netanyahu congratulated Silman on her resignation, saying, “I call on all those elected by the [right-wing] camp to join Idit and come home. You will be welcomed with complete respect and with open arms.”

Smotrich, previously a political partner of Bennett who is now a vocal opponent of the government, said that Silman had taken a “courageous step.”

Likud has been pushing for further defections from Yamina, hoping to force Bennett’s right-center-left-Arab alliance out of office.

With more defectors, the opposition could potentially topple the government and seek to establish a new coalition in this Knesset, or vote to dissolve the Knesset and bring the country to its fifth election cycle since 2019, though the paths to either of these two options are complicated.

Leader of the opposition and head of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu attends a special Plenary Session at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, April 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu has been holding meetings with officials from his party, as well as with Smotrich, in order to consider his next moves.

Following Silman’s resignation from the coalition, the lawmaker had her security increased due to threats made against her on social media.

The political turmoil began early Wednesday with Silman’s bombshell announcement of her resignation from the coalition, in which she said she would work to form a new, right-wing government without a resort to new elections.

In her resignation letter, Silman cited the continued “harming” of the Jewish identity in Israel as the main reason for her defection.

(L) Religious Zionist leader Bezalel Smotrich speaks during a Knesset faction meeting, on July 12, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90) and (R) Idit Silman at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on November 8, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“I will not abet the harming of the Jewish identity of the State of Israel and the people of Israel. I will continue to try to persuade my friends to return home and form a right-wing government,” she wrote. “I know I am not the only one who feels this way. Another government can be formed in this Knesset.”

According to reports, Silman did not tell Bennett of the move in advance, leaving the premier to learn through media reports that he had lost his government majority.

Silman’s announcement means the government will only be able to pass legislation with support from opposition lawmakers. The only party that would perhaps provide it with votes for some legislation would be the Joint List of Arab factions, but its support would only serve to further alienate coalition members on the right.

If the government is unable to restore its majority, the two leading scenarios for change are either going to elections or creating a new government within the Knesset.

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