No-confidence motion against Netanyahu fails in Knesset, with only 18 votes in favor

Vote boycotted by the coalition; opposition’s Liberman: It’s impractical to hold elections during wartime

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press conference on January 18, 2024. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press conference on January 18, 2024. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

With the government’s popularity plummeting, a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nevertheless garnered only 18 votes in the Knesset on Monday evening, falling far short of the necessary majority to pass in the 120-strong Knesset plenum.

The vote was boycotted by the coalition, whose heads stated earlier in the day that they would “not take part in political theater during wartime.”

The measure, brought by the Labor party, cited the government’s “failure” to secure the return of the 136 Israelis still held hostage in the Gaza Strip. Netanyahu’s inability to return the remaining captives has opened him up to increasing criticism from their families as well as his political opponents.

“The basic duty of a state toward its citizens is to protect their lives and safety,” Labor MK Efrat Rayten argued at the plenum ahead of the vote. “There is no, and cannot be, trust in a government that has failed so miserably” during and after Hamas’s October 7 attack, she added.

“Neither military means nor the government itself managed to bring back one abductee,” Ra’am party chairman Mansour Abbas declared during the debate (in fact, one hostage was directly rescued through a military operation). He said the hostages were “paying the price” for Jerusalem’s mistakes and added that the war had to end.

Speaking on behalf of the government in the plenum, Likud Minister May Golan countered by accusing the opposition of playing political games during wartime.

“The government as a responsible government does not cooperate with petty politics,” she asserted. Turning to family members of hostages seated in the gallery, she declared that “we feel [your] pain and are constantly working to return your loved ones,” only to be heckled by several of them.

Relatives of Israeli hostages held in Gaza hold up signs during a no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, January 22, 2024. (Knesset)

Responding to the coalition’s absence, outgoing Labor leader Merav Michaeli told the plenum that the government was “afraid.”

“Bibi is running away from responsibility,” she declared, using Netanyahu’s nickname.

Addressing her party’s weekly faction meeting at the Knesset ahead of the vote, Michaeli explained her decision to call for a no-confidence vote. “Since October 7, we have refrained from taking this step, but for 108 days we have seen that this government is occupied with everything… except the hostages,” she said.

“In order to bring our hostages home we must also be prepared to stop fighting” in Gaza, as demanded by Hamas, she said.

“You can’t keep muttering ‘Bringing the hostages home is above all else,’” she said. “You can’t keep on lying that ‘Only total victory will ensure the elimination of Hamas and the return of all our hostages.’ It will take a very long time to bring down Hamas, time that we do not have. And time that they don’t have. And we don’t have time to keep putting them in clear and immediate danger, day after day after day.”

Her comments came hours after relatives of the hostages burst into a session of the Knesset Finance Committee to demand that the government do more to secure their family members’ release.

Despite Netanyahu’s increasing unpopularity and other opponents’ harsh rhetoric regarding the prime minister, the measure failed to garner any significant support from other opposition factions.

Demonstrators burst into a meeting of the Knesset Finance Committee to call for government action to free their relatives held hostage by Hamas in Gaza, January 22, 2024. At right is Gilad Korngold, whose son Tal Shoham was kidnapped from Kibbutz Be’eri and is still held in Gaza (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

Speaking to reporters ahead of his own Yisrael Beytenu party’s faction meeting earlier in the day, Avigdor Liberman dismissed Labor’s plans, explaining that the country “needs unity” and that elections are divisive.

“This is not the time for Jewish wars,” he said, adding that it was “impractical” to hold elections during wartime and wondering how the government could arrange for hundreds of thousands of reservists to vote.

“Do we set up a ballot box in Khan Younis?” he asked wryly.

Despite this, Liberman agreed that Netanyahu has to go, stating that if the right-wing camp wants to stay in power the only way was to find new leadership, “otherwise it doesn’t matter when elections are held — the right will enter the opposition.”

If Netanyahu “had an ounce of conscience and was able to take responsibility, he would resign,” he declared.

Following the October 7 attack, trust in the government dropped to what the Israel Democracy Institute said was a 20-year low. According to a survey released by the Jerusalem-based think tank last month, more than two-thirds of Israelis believe that elections should be called as soon as the war against Hamas is concluded.

Ahead of the vote, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid urged Netanyahu to sit down and negotiate a date for new elections.

Despite promising to promote a motion of no-confidence in the prime minister should the cabinet pass a budget that did not slash coalition funds, Lapid told reporters, he “will wait another week,” citing the government’s delay in submitting the budget to the Knesset.

In the meantime, “I have a proposal for Benjamin Netanyahu: Let’s sit down, you and I, the prime minister and the leader of the opposition, and set a date,” he appealed, arguing that elections are inevitable.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid leads a meeting of his Yesh Atid faction at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 22, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“After the greatest disaster in the country’s history, we need a government that will regain the trust of the public, the trust of the security system, that will have a plan for the day after.”

In response, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich of the coalition’s far-right Religious Zionism party declared: “There is an agreed-upon election date in two and a half years. The law determined it, the Israeli public and society determined it.”

Smotrich also rejected calls for another ceasefire in Gaza, saying, “The claim that it is possible now to release hostages and return after a month or two to fight and eliminate Hamas is science fiction.”

His comments were echoed by National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who stated that “we have the moral duty to return [hostages] home and fight for [them] but we also have an obligation” to make sure that the rest of Israel’s millions of citizens are safe.

Labor party leader MK Merav Michaeli leads a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on December 4, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

If elections were held today, some three and a half months into the war against Hamas in Gaza, Minister Benny Gantz’s National Unity would be well-placed to form a coalition, ousting Benjamin Netanyahu, according to a poll published Sunday.

When asked what values motivate Netanyahu in his wartime decision-making, 53% in the Channel 13 survey said they believe he is primarily motivated by personal interest, and only 33% said he is acting for the good of the country.

The survey found that Gantz’s National Unity would be the largest party in the Knesset with 37 seats, up from its current 12. It gave the Likud party under the leadership of Netanyahu 16 seats, half its current 32, while the third biggest party in the Knesset would be Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, with 14 seats, down from its current 24.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

Most Popular
read more: