Meretz ups pressure on rebel MK to quit as she vows to again oppose key bill

‘You can’t publicly and personally decide for Israel that this gov’t will collapse,’ fellow Meretz member tells Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi after she helped defeat renewal of settler law

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

Health Minister and chief of the left-wing Meretz party Nitzan Horowitz (left) at the Knesset, on May 16, 2022; Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi (right) arrives for an interview at Channel 12 news, in Neve Ilan, on May 19, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Health Minister and chief of the left-wing Meretz party Nitzan Horowitz (left) at the Knesset, on May 16, 2022; Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi (right) arrives for an interview at Channel 12 news, in Neve Ilan, on May 19, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Members of the left-wing Meretz on Friday ramped up calls for the coalition party’s rebel MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi to give up her Knesset seat after helping sink a key government-backed bill.

The growing pressure came after the Arab Israeli lawmaker joined with the opposition to vote against legislation renewing the application of Israeli law to settlers in the West Bank, in a major blow to the ruling coalition.

“If it’s too hard for her and she’s unable to vote in accordance with the coalition and faction decisions — she should give up her position and we can move forward,” Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, who leads Meretz, told Radio 103FM.

“It’s the right and decent thing to do,” he added.

Meretz MK Yair Golan said Rinawie Zoabi had a moral obligation to resign.

“You entered the Knesset thanks to the power of 203,000 voters who are demanding that we represent them. Those voters and hundreds of thousands of others want this government to continue, which is why, if you have an ounce of personal integrity, this is what you must do: openly declare that from this moment on you’ll vote with the coalition and maintain coalition discipline, or return the mandate to the Knesset,” Golan wrote on Twitter.

“As an honest person, you can’t do this anymore. You can’t publicly and personally decide for the State of Israel that this government will collapse. You can’t be responsible for [opposition leader Benjamin] Netanyahu returning as prime minister,” Golan continued. “How will you live with yourself if you are personally responsible for [far-right MK Itamar] Ben Gvir becoming justice minister, for [far-right leader Bezalel] Smotrich becoming public security minister?”

He also said the “Jewish-Arab partnership that we have managed to create in this government is a groundbreaking moment. You don’t have the permission, the mandate to sabotage the future of us all.”

Meretz party MK Yair Golan during a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on May 31, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Meanwhile, Rinawie Zoabi vowed in an interview Friday to again vote against the settler law bill when it comes up again for a vote. The measure, which has been renewed every five years since 1967, is due to expire on June 30.

“I mainly expected Meretz to stand on its feet, particularly in regards to the Judea and Samaria law,” she told Kan public radio, using the biblical names for the West Bank. “Under no circumstance is there any chance I will support the bill.”

She also said “nobody has spoken to me directly” regarding the calls for her to resign.

Monday’s vote was seen by many, including Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who spearheaded the bill, as a test of how long the coalition could push on after losing its parliamentary majority in April.

Along with Rinawie Zoabi, MK Mazen Ghanaim of the coalition’s Islamist Ra’am party voted against the measure. Ra’am’s three other MKs and rebel Yamina MK Idit Silman were absent from the plenum, helping sink the bill in a 52-58 vote.

The coalition has since been pressuring Ghanaim and Rinawie Zoabi to quit, as it hopes to replace them with other MKs from Meretz and Ra’am who would be more likely to back the so-called West Bank bill in another vote.

The coalition can put up the bill for a vote every week before it expires at the end of June. If the government is dissolved before then, the bill will be automatically extended until a new coalition can vote on it.

The coalition has also been considering blocking legislation proposed by Ghanaim and Rinawie Zoabi as means of pressuring them to quit. At the end of the day, however, the final decision to quit or not lies with the lawmaker alone.

Horowitz said earlier this week that “this government is important to us, it’s important to Israel. Meretz has achieved many accomplishments as part of it,” vowing to do everything in his power to prevent Netanyahu from forming a government.

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)

Rinawie Zoabi announced mid-May that she was quitting the coalition, citing what she perceived to be a rightward shift by the government and threatening to potentially topple the government by making it lose its parliamentary majority.

“Unfortunately, in recent months, out of narrow political considerations, the leaders of the coalition have chosen to preserve and strengthen its right-wing flank,” she said at the time.

However, she reversed her decision a few days later, vowing to serve the Arab community from within the coalition.

She said she realized that “the alternative to this government will be [far-right MK Itamar] Ben Gvir as police minister, and I want to prevent that alternative.”

But that did not prevent her from voting against the coalition on the West Bank bill, with some criticizing her decision and others hailing it as bravely insisting on serving her public.

Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi attends a vote on a West Bank bill at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on June 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The coalition also faces problems on another front.

Silman, the rebel MK from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina, actively voted against the coalition earlier this week and torpedoed its attempt to reinstate fellow party member Matan Kahana as religious affairs minister. According to a television report Thursday, she has threatened to release purportedly damaging details about a fellow Yamina lawmaker if her party moves to declare her a defector.

Prior to the vote against Kahana, Silman had avoided directly opposing Yamina since quitting the coalition in April, as being formally labeled a defector would crimp her prospects in the next elections.

Other options being considered by the coalition for punishing Silman include dismissing her as head of the Knesset’s Health Committee.

Carrie Keller-Lynn contributed to this report.

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