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Lapid slams Netanyahu's 'bald-faced lies'

Meretz activists protest outside rebel MK’s home, call for her resignation

Report says left-wing party and fellow coalition faction Ra’am have told PM they’ve lost control of Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi and Mazen Ghanaim

Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi in the Knesset plenum on May 23, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi in the Knesset plenum on May 23, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Meretz activists protested Saturday evening outside the home of the left-wing party’s rebel MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi, calling on her to resign after she and another coalition lawmaker voted to help defeat a key bill, further unsettling the already trembly government.

Both Rinawie Zoabi and Ra’am MK Mazen Ghanaim are facing pressure to resign after voting with the opposition against a measure to renew the application of Israeli law to settlers in the West Bank. The Islamist Ra’am party’s three other Knesset members abstained, as did rebel Yamina MK Idit Silman of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s party, and the bill failed to pass in Monday’s 58-52 vote.

In a statement, the protesters said Rinawie Zoabi’s conduct could bring down the coalition “and lead to a government of darkness led by [Itamar] Ben Gvir, [Bezalel] Smotrich and [Benjamin] Netanyahu,” referring to a pair of far-right opposition MKs and the former prime minister.

Images from the demonstration in the northern town of Nof Hagalil showed a handful of protesters near Rinawie Zoabi’s home.

Ahead of the protest, Kan news said that Meretz and Ra’am told Bennett that they had lost control of Rinawie Zoabi and Ghanaim, who have rejected calls to resign and have promised to vote against the bill if it’s brought to a vote again.

According to the report, some Arab mayors are also now urging Rinawie Zoabi to give up her seat.

On Friday, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid warned the coalition’s various rebels that “anyone endangering this government from within should know they’ll pay a price.”

After losing its Knesset majority in April following Silman’s resignation from the coalition, the government has limped from one crisis to the next. Rinawie Zoabi announced she was quitting the coalition last month before reversing her decision days later, though she still voted against the so-called West Bank bill this week.

The failed vote on the bill was seen by many, including Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who spearheaded it, as a test of how long the coalition could push on.

Zoabi reiterated in an interview with Channel 12 on Saturday that she has no intention of resigning from Knesset.

“The coalition’s Jewish politicians want us as a tool to use, Silman and Shaked are the ones who are dismantling the coalition,” she said.

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)

Zoabi claimed that ministers broke the status-quo within the coalition when they pushed for certain right-wing bills, pointing the finger at Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and Yamina MK Nir Orbach. She claimed that Sa’ar had warned the coalition’s left-wing lawmakers to not vote against the so-called West Bank bill, threatening that “things will happen.”

“I’m in a situation where I have no faith in certain party heads within the coalition,” she said. “I’ve tried several times to go their way and got nothing in return.”

On Saturday, Lapid assailed Netanyahu in a Facebook post after the latter shared an article claiming that as part of his efforts to get Rinawie Zoabi back into the fold, Lapid had agreed to repopulate two Arab villages destroyed in 1948.

Denying the opposition leader’s claims as “bald-faced lies,” Lapid added that “you have to pinch yourself in order to believe that this man was ever prime minister.”

The latest threat to the coalition is now thought to be Orbach, who was at the center of speculation on Thursday as the latest potential defector in the government.

The Yamina MK has publicly denied persistent reports that he is negotiating with Netanyahu to potentially join Likud and form an alternate government. But sources close to Orbach have told Hebrew-language media that he is exploring such a possibility.

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

Channel 12 reported on Friday that Orbach has given Bennett an ultimatum to solve his problems with renegade MKs in Meretz and Ra’am within a week, or he could support a vote of no confidence in the government.

The right-wing MK has been pegged as a flight risk in recent months since Silman’s defection and has issued ultimatums for his continued support of the government.

Three polls this week showed Netanyahu’s opposition bloc reaching 60 seats in the 120-seat Knesset if elections were held today.

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