Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana announced Friday that he is resigning his post and will return to serve as a Yamina MK in the Knesset in order to “help strengthen the coalition,” in what is seen as the latest maneuver by the beleaguered party to stay in power.
Kahana said he had informed Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, also of Yamina, of his intention to resign which would take effect immediately.
The move is widely seen as preventing a further defection from the party that has already lost two lawmakers, leaving the eight-party coalition without a clear majority.
Sources said MK Yomtob Kalfon was the latest Yamina MK planning to defect and was the target of the maneuver.
Under the so-called Norwegian Law, Kahana — elected to the Knesset under Yamina’s slate — resigned his parliamentary seat upon taking his position as minister. His vacated seat was then passed onto another candidate on Yamina’s electoral slate.
Also under the law, Kahana’s ministerial resignation immediately sends him back into the Knesset, bumping out Kalfon, who is the last MK on Yamina’s current slate.
Bennett’s right-wing Yamina party has been the weak link in a fragile coalition, with two of its MKs elected to the slate either never supporting the coalition or resigning from it.
The first of these two, now-independent MK Amichai Chikli, was ousted from Yamina last month, and now faces potentially career-ending electoral sanctions.
The second, former coalition whip MK Idit Silman, threw the coalition into a tailspin when she departed from it last month, reducing the coalition’s thin 61-seat majority to a 60-60 seat parity with the opposition.
Party sources said the move was coordinated between Kahana and Bennett and deliberately announced late Friday afternoon just before the start of the Sabbath. The resignation goes into effect after 48 hours meaning that Kahana will be in the Knesset on Monday and Kalfon will remain home.
Kalfon raised concerns in the party that he was shifting his positions when he visited the Temple Mount on Independence Day.
“Happy Independence Day,” he wrote in a tweet that included a photo of him during the visit.
Known as the Temple Mount to Jews and Haram al-Sharif, or the Al-Aqsa complex to Muslims, Jerusalem’s most holy hilltop has been a crucible for violence in the weeks leading up to and during Ramadan, which coincided this year with Passover and Easter.
Kalfon could not be reached for comment after the start of the Sabbath.
Kahana, who has launched widespread reforms in the Religious Affairs Ministry, will likely be appointed a deputy minister their allowing him to continue with his efforts.
The government has been struggling to survive since losing its majority, amid tensions in Yamina and with the Islamist Ra’am party.
The Likud party on Wednesday pulled its bill to dissolve the Knesset after Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas announced that his party will return to the coalition and fulfill its related obligations.
With Ra’am’s four MKs, the coalition is back to a 60-60 seat parity with the Likud-led opposition, foiling the opposition’s bid to pass a preliminary reading on Wednesday of a bill to dissolve the Knesset and force elections. Had the opposition brought the measure and failed, it would have been unable to bring a similar bill to a vote again for six months.