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Bennett splits from Yamina, as ex-coalition MKs take revenge on renegade Silman

Former-PM departs his own party in tactical move letting allies join other parties; coalition MKs reject Idit Silman’s similar request, meaning she must now quit the Knesset to run

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Then-prime minister Naftali Bennett and MK Idit Silman in the Knesset, June 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Then-prime minister Naftali Bennett and MK Idit Silman in the Knesset, June 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Former prime minister Naftali Bennett took on another former role on Monday, as he split off from his own Yamina party, in order to enable two allied lawmakers to leave Yamina and join other parties without resigning their Knesset seats, even as the party’s rebel MK Idit Silman was denied enjoying the same exit.

Because MKs cannot be members of two parties simultaneously, sitting lawmakers must either be released from their current party, split off with a group of party members into a new faction, or resign their seats, in order to run with a different party in the November 1 election. Under the complex rules, all but resignation require a rubber stamp from the Knesset’s House Committee, and departing a party as individuals requires complete faction approval, while three MKs departing together as a new faction avoids the need for party approval.

Silman accelerated the outgoing government’s cascade toward implosion when she resigned in April from the coalition she had been leading as its whip. After the Knesset House Committee on Monday blocked her request to depart Yamina — and approved the similar request of the other three MKs — she would now need to resign her Knesset seat and be accepted to another party’s list if she wants to run in the November elections.

Yamina MKs Bennett, Matan Kahana and Shirly Pinto pulled their three seats out of Ayelet Shaked’s now-four-seat Yamina party, enabling Kahana and Pinto to run with different parties in the November 1 election, and effectively gutting the former ruling party during its struggle for political survival. Shaked’s Yamina joined hands with Derech Eretz to run in the upcoming vote as the Zionist Spirit party, which is currently polling below the 3.25-percent vote threshold needed to enter the Knesset.

Earlier on Monday, Kahana, Pinto, and Silman had come to an agreement with Yamina to each exit the party separately, but Silman’s release was blocked by several coalition MKs on the Knesset House Committee, whose approval was needed for the procedural split to take place.

In a move coordinated by Meretz faction leader Michal Rozin and Yisrael Beytenu MK Yulia Malinovsky, four coalition members in the committee torpedoed Silman’s separation from Yamina. Kahana and Pinto were not part of that plan, but it led them to make the move with Bennett instead of leaving Yamina as individuals.

“Silman will get what she deserves,” yelled Malinovsky, after she, Labor MK Emilie Moatti, and Yesh Atid lawmakers Boaz Toporovsky and Moshe Tur-Paz caused the Knesset House Committee motion to fail.

MK Idit Silman chairs a Knesset Health Committee on on June 7, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Bennett, who is leaving politics after the November election, is expected to merge his new faction with Yamina, and Silman alone will suffer the consequences of the move.

While Silman declined to share her reasons for wanting to remain a Knesset member — rather than simply quitting the Knesset — other lawmakers and Yamina sources said reasons could be not wanting to lose salary, staff and perks, and that campaigning from a lawmaker’s perch is preferable.

Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett arrives to testify at the commission of inquiry into Nahal Tzafit disaster in Tel Aviv, August 1, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Since Kahana, Pinto, and Bennett left Yamina without quitting the Knesset, the party will be down to just lawmakers Abir Kara, Nir Orbach, Yomtob Kalfon, and — nominally — Silman. Faction leader Ayelet Shaked is a minister, but not an MK.

Ousted Yamina MK Amichai Chikli quit the Knesset last month, in order to preserve his ability to run in an existing party in November, which allowed Kalfon to move into his seat, and replenish Yamina’s parliamentary representation.

After weeks of negotiations with Shaked, former religious affairs minister Kahana chose on Sunday to align his political fortunes with The National Unity Party, a rebranded center-right union formed by Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz and New Hope chief Gideon Sa’ar.

A source close to Kahana said a major sticking point was that the former minister was not satisfied that Shaked was committed to keeping Zionist Spirit’s seats out of a potential narrow right-wing government led by opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

Then-religious services minister Matan Kahana speaks during a Conference of the ‘Besheva’ group in Jerusalem, on August 1, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

While some reports and a Yamina source said Monday that Kara was also considering splitting off from the party, both Kara and his spokesperson denied the claims.

Orbach, leading the House Committee meeting that handled the separation requests, joked about whether he himself was still part of the Yamina faction.

“I’m still not sure,” committee chair Orbach said, in response to ribbing from fellow lawmakers about his Yamina status.

Along with Silman, Orbach expedited the previous coalition’s collapse. Silman provided the initial push towards dissolution, and Orbach’s intention to vote in favor of dissolving the Knesset was cited by former prime minister Bennett as a deciding factor in initiating bringing his government to an end. Orbach, who has also harbored aspirations to be appointed as a Likud minister, has not said whether he will join Zionist Spirit in the November elections.

Yamina, Likud sources, and Hebrew media reports all say that Silman is the potential bride in a Likud-arranged marriage with the Religious Zionism party. After courting her into the opposition, Likud sources say the party wants to find an elegant solution to “take care of” Silman, without necessarily giving her a reserved spot on Likud’s crowded slate.

Silman denied the deal to The Times of Israel, and a spokesman for Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich was not available for comment.

MK Shirly Pinto during a meeting of the Knesset House Committee in Jerusalem, on April 25, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Some other MKs have also resigned from the Knesset in the election lead-up, albeit with less dramatic consequences for their former political homes.

On Monday, former Yisrael Beytenu MK Eli Avidar stepped down, in order to lead his nascent but already rebranded party, Israel Free and Democratic.

“These days I am embarking on a new journey. I feel an obligation to return the seat as early as possible, because beyond being a necessary legal step, it is also the proper and moral thing to do,” Avidar said.

While it is technically improper to belong to two parties simultaneously, several lawmakers shuffle in the election leadup and memberships overlap.

After announcing the new party as “Israel Free,” earlier in August, Avidar was criticized by an Israeli NGO holding the same Hebrew-language name.

File: MK Eli Avidar at the opening of the Knesset summer session in Jerusalem on May 9, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Earlier this month, New Hope MK Michal Shir resigned her seat to join Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid list. She was replaced on Monday by the next on New Hope’s candidate slate, newly minted MK Mishel Buskila.

Likud lawmaker Gadi Yevarkan also quit in early August to run for a protected new immigrant spot on the Likud slate, rather than compete in the open primary. It was a gamble that could have paved his way into a realistic spot in the Knesset, but the new immigrant spot was won instead by Canadian-Israeli Dan Illouz. Yevarkan’s spot was filled on Monday by Tali Ploskov.

While the breakaway MKs will have their political freedom, they will not enjoy election funding. To meet the deadline for funding, they would have had to break away no later than three days after the Knesset’s June 30 dispersal.

United Torah Judaism’s constituent parties, Degel HaTorah and Agudat Yisrael, also split on Monday in a technical step, but they will retain funding because parties can keep their funds past the individual lawmaker deadline.

A spokesman for UTJ leader Moshe Gafni, the Degel HaTorah chair, said that the split is a routine pre-election move geared towards giving control over funding, rather than a signal that the parties are ready to plan separate runs.

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