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Opposition celebrates as coalition becomes minority: ‘No right to exist’

Likud, Shas, Religious Zionism hail potential end of Bennett-Lapid government after Meretz MK quits; opposition is disunited, but in theory now has the votes to dissolve Knesset

From left to right: MK Yariv Levin, Likud  leader Benjamin Netanyahu and MK Miki Zohar at the Knesset on June 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
From left to right: MK Yariv Levin, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and MK Miki Zohar at the Knesset on June 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel’s opposition on Thursday feted the potential end of the coalition government as yet another member broke ranks and announced her resignation, while members of the wayward lawmaker’s party expressed hope that her mind could still be changed.

Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi’s move left the coalition in a minority in parliament, with 59 of 120 MKs. Though the other 61 MKs are hardly united, the opposition will now hope it can muster a majority to vote for parliament’s dissolution.

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-led opposition last week abandoned plans to advance a bill to dissolve the Knesset and hold new elections, but was Thursday weighing attempting to advance such legislation for a preliminary next week, depending on whether it believes it can now muster the necessary votes. (Such a bill needs only a simple majority in its preliminary vote, but must garner an absolute majority of at least 61 votes to pass its three subsequent plenum readings. If it fails at any stage, it cannot be resubmitted for six months.)

Likud legislators celebrated the latest blow to the government.

Senior Likud MK Yariv Levin said the “failed government” of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his partner Foreign Minister Yair Lapid “has turned into a minority government. Now it’s clear the government has lost its right to exist.”

Likud MK May Golan tweeted: “The first Israeli-Palestinian government is on its way to the trash heap of history.”

New MKs (from left) Mazen Ghanaim, Michal Waldiger and Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi seen at the Knesset ahead of the opening session of the new parliament, April 5, 2021. (Olivier Fitousi/Flash90)

Shas party leader Aryeh Deri gave credit to 2nd century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai — whose death anniversary was marked on Wednesday night by thousands of pilgrims on Mount Meron.

The “holy [rabbi’s] merits will help us remove an evil government from the land,” he tweeted.

Head of the Religious Zionist Party MK Bezalel Smotrich speaks during a rally against the government in Tel Aviv, November 2, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The head of the far-right Religious Zionism party, Bezalel Smotrich, similarly lauded the deceased rabbi, “who can be counted on in times of difficulty.”

Idit Silman, who was the coalition whip until her own resignation last month, posted on Instagram a quote from the Book of Esther: “Deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place.”

Likud’s Yoav Kisch referred to the previous day’s talk of rebellion in Likud — now possibly rendered moot — over the party’s plans to oppose a coalition bill providing study grants to released soldiers.

“They’re falling apart,” he tweeted of the coalition. “We’ll oppose any proposal from them. We’ll soon be back [in power] and do it 100 times better.”

Former coalition whip and Yamina MK Idit Silman speaks with Likud faction chair MK Yariv Levin during the Knesset House Committee hearing on Yamina’s request to declare MK Amichai Chikli a “defector” from the party, April 25, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Meanwhile, in Rinawie Zoabi’s Meretz party, one MK expressed hope her mind could still be changed.

“We need to learn what happened, talk to her, and I hope we can straighten things out. I think we can find solutions,” said MK Mossi Raz.

Meretz’s Yair Golan said he’d spoken to Rinawie Zoabi this week and she hadn’t give any indication of her pending decision to resign from the Knesset. “This is evidence of a lack of a basic understanding of politics. I call on her to reverse this fatal decision,” Golan was quoted as saying by the Kan public broadcaster.

Golan later told Channel 12, however, that he thought her resignation was irreversible. When it was put to him that if Zoabi and the mainly Arab, opposition Joint List all vote with the opposition, there would be a majority for the Knesset to dissolve and hold new elections, he said, “I hope those you’ve mentioned will pull themselves together and … at least to abstain in a vote for the dissolution of the Knesset.”

New Knesset member Rinawie Zoabi seen at the Knesset ahead of the opening Knesset session of the new government, on April 5, 2021. (Olivier Fitousi/Flash90)

Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej, also of Meretz, called the move “strange” and said he’d last met with Rinawie Zoabi at the Knesset on Monday.

“I didn’t see any signs of this… It’s hard for us too, but we’re not taking extreme steps [like she did],” the minister told Kan public radio.

Joint List party chief Ayman Odeh of the opposition hailed Rinawie Zoabi’s decision.

“Most of the public wants [Arab-Jewish] partnership. But for that to happen, the sane majority must separate from the extreme right,” Odeh commented. “We won’t be second-class partners.”

Joint List leader Ayman Odeh (Hadash) at a Knesset faction meeting on March 7, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a letter addressed to coalition leaders Bennett and Lapid, Rinawie Zoabi claimed her move was prompted by a rightward shift by the government.

“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 wrote.

She accused the government of adopting “hawkish stances” on views critical to Arab society, listing “Al-Aqsa and the Temple Mount, Sheikh Jarrah, the settlement enterprise and the occupation, the destruction of homes and confiscation of lands in Arab communities in the Negev, and of course the Citizenship Law.”

She called the past month “insufferable,” citing recent clashes between Palestinians and police on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the death of an Al Jazeera reporter during a firefight between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli troops in the West Bank city of Jenin.

Rinawie Zoabi, an Arab Israeli, added, “I cannot continue to support the existence of a coalition that in this shameful manner harasses the society I come from.”

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