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Calls intensify for coalition MKs who torpedoed key bill to resign from Knesset

Yamina appears to not be in a hurry to label renegade MK Idit Silman a defector, but MKs Rinawie Zoabi and Ghanaim face pressure to quit parliament and make room for others

Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi (L) speaks with Ra'am MK Mazen Ghanaim (R) during a Knesset discussion on a bill to renew the application of some Israeli law to settlers, June 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi (L) speaks with Ra'am MK Mazen Ghanaim (R) during a Knesset discussion on a bill to renew the application of some Israeli law to settlers, June 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Renegade MKs who voted against a critical piece of legislation on Monday were facing intense pressure to resign Tuesday, as the coalition struggled to stay afloat and regain its ability to pass laws.

Ra’am MK Mazen Ghanaim and Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi voted on Monday against a measure to renew the application of Israeli criminal and civil law to Israelis living in the West Bank, while the Islamist Ra’am party’s other MKs and rebel Yamina MK Idit Silman were absent from the plenum, helping sink the bill in a 52-58 vote.

The coalition was then dealt another blow when Silman actively voted against the coalition and torpedoed its attempt to reinstate Yamina MK Matan Kahana as religious affairs minister. It was the first time Silman cast a key vote against the coalition since she defected to the opposition in early April.

“Those who can’t live with this coalition should leave. Those who can should commit to it. You can’t play both sides,” Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Tuesday morning during a Democrat TV conference.

Under Knesset rules, an MK no longer aligned with their party can defect and become a free agent, though doing so usually comes with campaign finance penalties the next time elections are called. The lawmaker can also quit the Knesset altogether, making room for another party member lower down the slate to enter the Knesset and giving the coalition another potentially loyal member.

Ghanaim told the Ynet news site Tuesday evening that “only I will decide my future, not anybody else.” However, he noted, if Ra’am calls on him to quit the Knesset, he will likely do so. The Ra’am MK said he voted his conscience in the Knesset on Monday: “They asked me in Ra’am to be absent [from the vote], but I didn’t want to be absent on an issue that is so sensitive, a law that is against my people… I can’t cancel myself out for the survival of this coalition.”

Ra’am MK Mazen Ghanaim (left) attends a vote on a West Bank bill at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on June 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The defeated bill, enacted every five years since 1967, would renew a measure extending Israeli criminal law and certain key civil laws — such as income tax and health insurance — to Israelis living in the West Bank. The measure ensures that settlers living there are treated as though they live in Israel in most matters, without extending those same legal protections to Palestinians.

Interim coalition whip MK Boaz Toporovsky (Yesh Atid) told Army Radio on Tuesday that he was calling on Zoabi to resign, and “Mazen Ghanaim absolutely needs to quit.”

In interviews on all three TV networks Tuesday evening, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar (New Hope) said Ghanaim and Rinawie Zoabi should consider resigning if they cannot get on board with the coalition.

Alluding to the pressure on members to resign, Agriculture Minister Oded Forer (Yisrael Beytenu) told 103FM radio that coalition members “need to understand that just how there is discipline in the coalition, there is also factional discipline that requires everyone’s commitment,” adding that members who do not follow rules should inform their party of their intentions.

Until Monday, Silman had avoided directly opposing Yamina since her announcement in April that she would no longer align with the coalition. The decision was intended to keep her options open, with Yamina threatening to make her defection official and trigger the loss of campaign finance benefits the next time elections are held.

However, Silman voted in the early hours of Tuesday morning to block the re-appointment of Matan Kahana as religious affairs minister, sparking calls for her to be officially ousted from the party or face other sanctions.

MK Idit Silman seen at the Knesset on June 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to the Israel Hayom daily, Knesset legal adviser Sagit Afik advised Silman on Tuesday that her vote against Kahana was not reason enough for her to be declared a defector, but that she will likely be removed as chairwoman of the Knesset’s Health Committee.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and Yamina MK Nir Orbach were reportedly opposed to efforts to formally censure Silman, fearing it will push her closer to the opposition, a stance not shared by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who is said to be pushing for her ouster from the committee.

Kahana, nonetheless, did not hold back on his criticism of Silman. “Yesterday she proved with her actions that she is no longer part of Yamina,” he said. “I believe there will be consequences for this.”

“Whether I’m religious affairs minister or deputy minister is less important. What is important is the government’s stability,” Kahana added.

Meretz leader and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz stressed on Tuesday the importance of preventing opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu from returning to power — and said that anyone not committed to the current coalition is welcome to leave.

Health Minister and chief of the left-wing Meretz party Nitzan Horowitz (left) at the Knesset, on May 16, 2022; Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi (right) arrives for an interview at Channel 12 news, in Neve Ilan, on May 19, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“This government is important to us, it’s important to Israel. Meretz has achieved many accomplishments as part of it. We are committed to replacing Netanyahu and stopping [far-right leaders Bezalel] Smotrich and [Itamar] Ben Gvir. Meretz will not be a part of a process that brings them back to power,” Horowitz vowed.

“It requires an effort and tough decisions. Those who can’t stand such difficulties are welcome to pack their things. I am working relentlessly to preserve this government and prevent elections. I’m convinced we’ll make it,” he added.

Earlier, Meretz MK Yair Golan criticized Rinawie Zoabi and Ra’am for working against the coalition. “I think the Ra’am MKs [who voted against the bill or were absent from the vote] made a fatal mistake. And I’m disappointed by Zoabi,” he told Ynet.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett attends a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting at the Knesset, on June 06, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Bennett, meanwhile, insisted that the coalition will live on. Asked by the Ynet news site whether the coalition was nearing its end, Bennett said: “Absolutely not.”

Speaking during a meeting of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Tuesday morning, Bennett touted the government’s accomplishments since it was sworn in a year ago.

“This has been the quietest year for residents of the south since the [2005] disengagement [from Gaza],” the Israeli premier said, claiming strategic successes in facing Iran and addressing crime and violence in the Arab society.

According to a poll aired Tuesday by the Kan public broadcaster, former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-religious bloc would win 60 seats — one short of a parliamentary majority — if new elections were held. Israel has been through four grueling elections since 2019 — including three consecutive votes without the formation of a government — as the dueling blocs have struggled to form a sturdy majority in the Knesset.

Tobias Siegal contributed to this report. 

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