Meretz minister: Rebel MK who quit coalition should resign from the Knesset

Esawi Frej says he’s ‘angry, disappointed and embarrassed’ by party colleague Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi’s move, predicts she won’t oppose minority gov’t in vote on new elections

Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej attends a Meretz faction meeting at the Knesset on February 28, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej attends a Meretz faction meeting at the Knesset on February 28, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej on Saturday said fellow Meretz member Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi should give up her Knesset seat after she quit the coalition this week in a blow to the now-minority government.

“Meretz voters by a large gap… want the continuation of the government and for Meretz to remain in the government. You’re committed to act in accordance with the agenda of the voters who sent you [to the Knesset],” Frej said during a cultural event in Ramat Hasharon.

“If not, it’s common sense. I would have resigned instead,” he added, saying Rinawie Zoabi’s Knesset seat belongs to Meretz and not her.

Rinawie Zoabi did not rule out such a possibility in a radio interview Friday.

Frej stressed his continued frustration over Rinawie Zoabi’s resignation, noting the announcement Thursday caught him and other members of the left-wing party off guard.

“I’m angry, disappointed and embarrassed from my friend Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi. I sat with her for an entire hour on Monday and she surprised me. She didn’t say anything in that meeting and in her announcement didn’t give us respect,” he said.

Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi arrives for an interview at the Channel 12 studio in Neve Ilan on May 19, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The minister insisted Rinawie Zoabi would not vote to dissolve the Knesset and hold new elections. He also predicted the government would not collapse next week, when a preliminary vote is set to be held to disband parliament and call what would be Israel’s fifth elections in barely three years.

“What she did was an attack in terms of perception. It’s not a matter of numbers, because we’ll survive,” he said. “She won’t vote with the opposition. I can’t say definitively if she’ll vote with the coalition, but it won’t be because of her that the government falls.”

Rinawie Zoabi said Friday she has not yet decided how she will vote on the bill next to dissolve the Knesset. However, despite resigning from the coalition, she said may still cooperate with the ruling bloc as “the alternative to the existing government is much worse.”

“Of course, I do not want to see Netanyahu return,” she said in an interview with the Haaretz daily, referencing the former prime minister and current opposition chairman.

While her resignation left the coalition with just 59 MKs, and a preliminary reading of a bill to disperse the Knesset for new elections needs only a simple majority, it would need an absolute majority of at least 61 MKs to clear its subsequent three readings, and it is not clear that the opposition could muster those 61 votes.

Also Friday, coalition MK Eli Avidar said he will push to advance legislation barring a criminal defendant from forming a government, which could prevent Netanyahu’s return to power. The former premier faces charges in three graft cases. He denies wrongdoing.

“Passing the law will allow us to revive public trust [in the government] and we won’t have to explain why we received a mandate and didn’t do what we promised,” he said.

Eli Avidar speaks at a press conference at the Knesset, February 22, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

It remains unclear if there is sufficient support for such a bill, however, and Avidar noted opposition by Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, a member of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s right-wing Yamina party.

“If Shaked wants to bring down the government, let her. It will give the role of prime minister to [Foreign Minister Yair] Lapid in the transition government,” Avidar added.

He was referring to a clause in the coalition’s power-sharing agreement stipulating that whichever of their blocs is not responsible for bringing down the government will serve as prime minister in the case of new elections.

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