Chikli: 'Israelis knows who the real dissenters are'

Bennett’s Yamina party said to weigh declaring rebel MK Chikli a dissenter

Lawmaker voted with opposition in all budget votes; move would bar him from running in any existing party in next election

Rebel Yamina MK Amichai Chikli addresses the Knesset plenum during votes on the state budget, November 4, 2021. (Noam Moskowitz/Knesset spokesperson)
Rebel Yamina MK Amichai Chikli addresses the Knesset plenum during votes on the state budget, November 4, 2021. (Noam Moskowitz/Knesset spokesperson)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party is considering declaring its rebel MK Amichai Chikli a dissenter, a report said Thursday, in a move that would mean he has broken away from the faction and cannot run in the next election for any existing party.

Chikli voted against the coalition and with the opposition on every single vote during the marathon process of approving the 2021 state budget late Wednesday and early Thursday. The votes would have caused the government to fall if another single coalition member had switched sides, since Chikli leaving reduced the coalition to 61 lawmakers in the 120-seat Knesset, the slimmest majority possible.

Channel 12 news reported that Yamina has long contemplated formally declaring Chikli a dissenter but avoided the move out of hope that they could work with him on some matters. But the network cited quoted Yamina officials as saying they now see no point in waiting any longer.

The report said such a declaration would signal to all coalition members that there would be no tolerance shown for a similar rebellion.

Yamina said in response that no decision had been made on the matter.

Chikli responded to the report with a scathing attack on his former political home.

“The Israeli nation is smart, and it knows very well who the real dissenters are,” he said in a statement. “Who presented a false reality and misled his voters while violating each and every one of his promises. Who stole the votes of tens of thousands of right-wing voters without blinking an eye to form a post-Zionist government. Who wanted too much to lead Israel, but will never get to truly do that.

“You can keep celebrating and declare me a dissenter, but deep inside, you know that those who dissented from any semblance of Yamina’s original ideology are you, and the truth will eventually prevail,” he concluded.

Chikli, who also voted against the establishment of the coalition in June, said Saturday that he would not vote with the coalition in favor of the budget.

“I do not do the mathematics of self-interest, and there is no deal by which I will support the budget,” he told Channel 12.

Chikli claimed, with no evidence, that the money set aside in the budget for projects in the Arab community would be used for “radicalization.”

“It’s a very dangerous budget, NIS 30 billion is going to be managed by the Ra’am party and [its leader] Mansour Abbas, and that is a very bad thing,” he said, referring to the coalition member.

Naftali Bennett blows a kiss at an opposition MK during a plenum session and a vote on the state budget in the Knesset on November 3, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Knesset passed Israel’s first budget in over three years early Thursday morning, as Bennett’s coalition managed to overcome its internal differences and the opposition’s objections to approve a series of bills meant to guide the country’s spending until the end of next year.

Lawmakers voted 61-59, along coalition-opposition lines, to approve the 2021 state budget in its final readings just after 5 a.m., following an all-night session that they will be expected to repeat over the coming day to pass more budget items as part of the major package.

The NIS 609 billion ($194 billion) spending plan for 2021 is the first budget Israel has passed since 2018, due to a prolonged political deadlock that saw successive governments fall before they could bring a proposal to the Knesset.

Passing the budget was seen as a key test for Bennett’s eight-party coalition, both to prove that the ideologically disparate alliance can come together on major issues and because failure to do so by a November 14 deadline would have triggered new elections automatically.

The government still faces marathon discussions to pass the 2022 budget, starting Thursday morning and continuing until the evening at the earliest. That budget doesn’t pose an immediate threat of early elections, but still must be passed by the end of March 2022.

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