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MK Shirly Pinto leaves Yamina for newly formed National Unity

Israel’s first deaf Knesset member becomes the 2nd former member of ex-PM Bennett’s party to join alliance led by Gantz, Sa’ar and Eisenkot

In this handout photo released by National Unity on August 22, 2022, leaders Benny Gantz (R) and Gideon Sa'ar (l) pose with the party's newest member, MK Shirly Pinto (C). (Elad Malka)
In this handout photo released by National Unity on August 22, 2022, leaders Benny Gantz (R) and Gideon Sa'ar (l) pose with the party's newest member, MK Shirly Pinto (C). (Elad Malka)

MK Shirly Pinto on Monday joined the new National Unity party, days after formally breaking from former prime minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina.

National Unity, a merger of Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope, was launched last week with the addition of former military chief Gadi Eisenkot. Pinto will receive a spot on National Unity’s electoral slate reserved for New Hope, but it was not specified which number.

The party said Pinto, a long-time activist for disability-related issues who last year became Israel’s first ever deaf Knesset member, would head a campaign team for advancing the rights of the disabled.

Pinto had also reportedly been in talks with Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, but ultimately chose National Unity.

The move comes after Pinto announced earlier this month that she would not run with Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked’s Zionist Spirit party, an alliance of Yamina and the minor Derech Eretz faction. Shaked was handed leadership of Yamina after Bennett stepped down as premier in June following the government’s collapse, but has since faced several defections.

Pinto is the second former Yamina member to join National Unity, following ex-minister Matan Kahana. The Knesset approved their split from Yamina last week, clearing them to run in the November 1 elections without having to resign as lawmakers.

Deputy Minister of Religious Services Matan Kahana speaks with Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked in the Knesset on May 16, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/FLASH90)

There was no immediate response from Shaked to Pinto’s announcement. Shaked took a public swipe at Kahana after he left the right-wing Yamina last week, suggesting her former colleague was now part of the left.

National Unity said Monday it would soon announce additional new party members.

Since launching, National Unity has touted itself as a moderate center-right outfit capable of forming a broad and stable government despite the deep political divide in the country. Polls last week predicted the party would win 12-14 seats, with Eisenkot’s entry to politics providing no apparent boon to National Unity’s fortunes.

All three of the television polls said Zionist Spirit would fail to pick up enough support to enter the Knesset, while forecasting the elections — Israel’s fifth in three and a half years — would result in further political gridlock, with former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing religious allies again coming short of a parliamentary majority.

Though notoriously unreliable, Israeli TV polls nevertheless often impact the decision-making of politicians.

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