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Ousted Yamina MK Kalfon: I didn’t defect or intend to do so

In shift, Bennett’s Yamina moves to strip rebel MK Silman of her committee posts

Coalition said to tell Knesset it will remove Silman from panels after she wouldn’t back Kahana’s reappointment as religious services minister; Pinto to replace her on health panel

MKs Idit Silman (R) and Nir Orbach arrive for a Yamina faction meeting at the Knesset on May 16, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
MKs Idit Silman (R) and Nir Orbach arrive for a Yamina faction meeting at the Knesset on May 16, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett appears to have reversed his kid-glove treatment of rebel MK Idit Silman, reportedly deciding early Tuesday to remove her from her positions on Knesset committees.

Silman, a member of Bennett’s Yamina party, resigned as coalition whip last month and joined the opposition, a major blow to the government that cost it its parliamentary majority.

Despite the political earthquake Silman set off by resigning from the coalition, Bennett and Yamina have been gentle with her till now, in hopes of gaining her support on key votes.

According to Hebrew media reports, the coalition informed the Knesset overnight that it was stripping Silman of her committee posts, including chair of the Knesset Health Committee, a position she particularly values.

The coalition is expected to nominate Yamina MK Shirly Pinto to the Health Committee to replace Silman. Last week as the coalition wobbled and the Yamina party looked particularly vulnerable, Pinto issued Bennett several demands that included taking Silman’s spot as committee chair.

The Walla news site said Bennett did not inform Yamina MK Nir Orbach, the party’s Knesset faction chair, of the plan to remove Silman from her committee positions. Orbach heads the Knesset House Committee, which approves the makeup of parliamentary panels.

Shirley Pinto, the first deaf Knesset member, with fellow Yamina MK Idit Silman during a swearing-in ceremony of new Israeli parliament members at the Knesset on June 16, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Bennett’s new approach became plain during Monday’s faction meeting, when Silman equivocated on lending her support to reinstating fellow Yamina MK Matan Kahana as religious affairs minister.

The premier then booted her from the meeting.

Kahana had resigned his post on Friday in order to rejoin the Knesset under the Norwegian rule, bumping out now-former MK Yomtob Kalfon amid rumored concerns he too could break with the coalition. The coalition then planned to seek Kahana’s reinstatement as minister, while he would also serve as a lawmaker.

Silman’s backing of Kahana, or at least a commitment not to oppose his reappointment as minister, may be pivotal to achieving sufficient Knesset support to return him to the ministry.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (L) speaks with Yamina MK Matan Kahana in the Knesset on May 16, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

On Monday, Kahana was appointed by the government as deputy religious affairs minister, which does not require Knesset approval. The post of minister currently sits with Bennett, for a temporary period of three months. The move allowed Kahana to effectively continue running the office.

Also Monday, Kalfon said Bennett’s decision to yank him from the Knesset took him by surprise, and he insisted he had no plans to follow Silman in defecting.

“I was shocked when Bennett removed me from the Knesset. I didn’t defect or intend to do so,” he said in an interview with Channel 12 news.

Yamina MK Yomtob Kalfon leads a Knesset Constitution Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on March 15, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Publicly, Bennett has avoided suggesting that Kalfon was going to jump ship.

Army Radio reported on Saturday that Bennett offered Kalfon a variety of positions outside the Knesset in an effort to part ways on positive terms. According to the report, Kalfon had yet to decide if he will accept any of the offers.

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