Numerous lawmakers from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party were reportedly working Tuesday to oust MK Miki Zohar from his posts of coalition whip and faction leader, after he announced disciplinary measures against party members who allegedly violated coalition discipline.
According to Hebrew media, 12 Likud MKs — a third of the party’s lawmakers in the Knesset — signed a request for Zohar’s removal as faction leader. To push out Zohar, at least 19 of the party’s 36 MKs must support his removal.
The effort was initiated by MK Shlomo Karhi, who was told by Netanyahu to put the brakes on the move, media reports said.
“This isn’t the time to do things like this. It’s inappropriate right now,” Netanyahu told Karhi.
Karhi, who was among those sanctioned, earlier issued harsh criticisms of Zohar. “He’s divisive, harms Likud and the prime minister and [he] needs to go home now,” Karhi wrote on Twitter.
Following Netanyahu’s intervention, Karhi continued to attack Zohar.
“No body can doubt my loyalty to the prime minister and the Likud, I will always be beside the prime minister and back him,” he tweeted. “It is important that you know that the one who foiled my initiatives that all of you wanted was His Excellency Mr. Miki – honor money power -Zohar.”
Following the reports, Zohar denied there was any effort to remove him from his position. “It’s clear to everyone that the fake news industry in the media is working against me exactly as it works against the prime minister,” Zohar tweeted.
He also thanked Netanyahu for his support following the earlier criticism from Likud lawmakers.
“I’ll continue to work for the citizens of Israel, the Likud movement and the prime minister without fear,” he said.
The reported effort to oust Zohar came hours after he removed MK Yifat Shasha-Biton as head of the Knesset’s Coronavirus Committee.
“I wish to inform you that in light of your conduct and absence from obligatory votes in the plenum… it’s been decided to remove you from your post of Coronavirus Committee chairwoman,” Zohar wrote in a letter to Shasha-Biton.
Shasha-Biton, who has led the committee since June, butted heads with Netanyahu in overturning a number of cabinet decisions to restrict businesses during the pandemic, including the closures of restaurants, gyms and pools.
Her removal requires the approval of the House Committee, which is expected to have a majority backing the move, even if the Blue and White party, which has previously opposed her ouster, abstains.
“I acted according to my conscious. The prime minister’s decision to fire me is meant to prevent serious deliberations, discourse, listening to the public, [and] other voices being heard,” she wrote on Twitter. “I’m also happy that I opened the committee to the public with transparency, seriousness and full attentiveness, and I pledge to continue to do so in the future in whatever position I’m in.”
Besides Shasha-Biton, Zohar disciplined several other Likud ministers and Knesset members for missing plenum votes, including on a bill last week to bar psychotherapists from performing gay conversion therapy.
That bill, which passed its initial reading, was backed by Blue and White but opposed by Likud and the coalition’s Shas and United Torah Judaism ultra-Orthodox parties. Netanyahu himself was among the 21 Likud lawmakers who weren’t present for the vote.
“When a small man casts a giant shadow it means the sun is setting. I hope you’ll act to fulfill your mission and unite the faction,” Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen wrote on Twitter in a shot at Zohar.
Zohar pushed backed on the criticism, saying he was doing his job of keeping the coalition together. He also appeared to acknowledge Netanyahu’s role in the decision to oust Shasha-Biton, and received backing from the prime minister.
“Without discipline Likud can’t govern, especially during the coronavirus crisis,” Netanyahu tweeted. “I ask all Likud members to show responsibility, pay heed to factional disciple and cease the unnecessary attacks within the faction.”
The sanctions came on the heels of several feuds within Likud, among them a public spat last week between Zohar and Finance Minister Israel Katz.