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Likud announces boycott of coalition whip, claiming she secretly recorded MKs

TV reporter calls claim ‘nonsense,’ says Silman, during interview, quickly went to vote, turning off mic she had on her; coalition bill to extend housing panel said in danger

Likud MK David Bitan (L) speaks with coalition whip Idit Silman (Yamina) during a Knesset plenum session in Jerusalem, on July 6, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud MK David Bitan (L) speaks with coalition whip Idit Silman (Yamina) during a Knesset plenum session in Jerusalem, on July 6, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party announced on Tuesday evening that it would no longer cooperate with coalition whip Idit Silman, in the latest action aimed at hindering the new government.

The party claimed the lawmaker, from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party, had secretly recorded opposition lawmakers in the Knesset a day earlier on behalf of Channel 12 news.

The network has rejected the allegation, saying Silman had been giving a TV interview outside the Knesset plenum when she had to quickly enter for a vote. Rather than disconnecting her microphone, she turned it off and entered the plenum with it on her.

Others, including United Torah Judaism deputy leader Yaakov Litzman, have launched similar accusations against Silman.

“We discovered this evening that MK Silman walked around here with a recording device in her pocket, taping the Knesset members in the plenum for Channel 12,” Litzman said during an overnight Monday-Tuesday session at the Knesset.

“[UTJ leader Moshe] Gafni and I filed a complaint with the speaker of the Knesset. This is a horrible act,” he said.

Litzman then further claimed that “Silman told the coalition members about the recordings so that they would speak nicely.”

MK Yaakov Litzman attends a plenary session at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on July 26, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Daphna Liel, the Knesset reporter for Channel 12, tweeted in response: “What nonsense. We were filming Idit Silman when she had to run for a vote. She turned off the microphone and entered the plenum.”

Channel 12’s newscast, in its different forms, has been a ratings leader in Israel for many years. But it has increasingly drawn negative attention from some on the right of the political spectrum, who claim that the outlet is a propaganda tool of the left.

In a response to Litzman’s post on Twitter, Silman didn’t directly comment on the allegation — merely saying that recent changes in the Knesset have “thrown [Litzman] off balance” — and attacked him over an unrelated suspected corruption case reported last month involving an aide.

“I would suggest that you focus on the right recordings,” Silman wrote to Litzman, sharing a screenshot of a report claiming recordings prove that when Litzman was health minister, his adviser had illicit contact with a pharmaceutical firm and a Haredi businessman in an attempt to affect which medications would enter the state-funded health basket.

The Yamina lawmaker has repeatedly come under attack from opposition lawmakers, and has said in the past that the “kindergarten tactics” being used against her were not random, and were part of “a clear method with a guiding hand.”

Silman has also been the target of threats, as some on the right have accused her and the rest of her party of betraying the right by forming a unity government to oust Benjamin Netanyahu after 12 years of rule.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz leads a Blue and White faction meeting at the Knesset, on July 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

There was further trouble for the coalition on Tuesday, as a key bill to extend the mandate of a controversial fast-track planning committee was reportedly in danger due to the objection of some members of Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party.

The law, due to go up for a vote during the night, has faced protests by green bodies that argue the so-called Committee for Preferred Housing Sites, known by its Hebrew initials as Vatmal, tramples environmental concerns.

The bill would extend the committee’s mandate for another four years, subject to Knesset approval.

Critics such as the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel have long argued that in its rush to build, the committee overlooks environmental considerations and approves too much construction on virgin or rezoned agricultural land. With a little more effort and research, it argues, space for more intensive building within city boundaries can be found.

Many mayors say that the government’s overriding focus on massive residential construction fails to take sufficient account of the need for capital investment in additional infrastructures such as roads, sewers, public transportation, schools and hospitals.

If no majority is in sight for the bill, the coalition will be forced to pull it, in what would be seen as a blow to them.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett seen during a plenary session at the assembly hall of the Knesset in Jerusalem, July 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

 

Earlier Tuesday, the coalition scored a victory when a piece of legislation anchoring a rotation agreement between Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid passed the Knesset following a marathon debate.

The amendment to Israel’s Basic Law on the government cements a power-sharing deal that will see Lapid take over as head of the government in September 2023, serving out the remainder of the government’s 4.5-year term, unless the government collapses before then.

The measure passed second and third readings in the Knesset plenum 61-2, with almost the entire opposition boycotting the vote in protest, following over 15 hours of debate.

Amy Spiro and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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