Opposition politicians welcomed the announcement on Wednesday by Yamina’s Idit Silman that she was quitting the government, as ministers and coalition lawmakers expressed disappointment at the news that they had lost their majority.
In a dramatic early-morning announcement, coalition whip Idit Silman said she was quitting the coalition because it was “harming” Jewish identity in Israel.
According to reports, she is set to leave Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina and join opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party with the promise of becoming health minister if it were to return to power.
Netanyahu welcomed Silman’s resignation announcement and called on others from the coalition to follow her lead.
“I was very moved to hear MK Idit Silman’s statement, and I congratulate her on behalf of the masses of the people of Israel who yearned for this moment,” Netanyahu said in a video statement.
“I call on all those elected by the national camp to join Idit and come home. You will be received with complete respect and with open arms,” he said.
Hours later, at a special Knesset session to discuss the recent terror attacks, the Likud leader repeated his words of welcome to Silman and the request for others to defect.
“We all welcome her with a warm embrace and open arms. Come home – to the real right, to the national camp,” Netanyahu said.
“Join Idit. Together we will form a strong national government that will take care of all Israeli citizens,” he said.
Far-right MK Bezalel Smotrich, head of the opposition Religious Zionism party, previously a political partner of Bennett who is now a vocal opponent of the government, said that Silman had taken a “courageous step.”
“The national camp will receive Idit with open arms and in a place of honor reserved for those who saved the people of Israel,” Smotrich said in a statement.
“I call on the members of the coalition who were elected by the right to come home. Together, a Jewish, Zionist and national government will be built that will do a lot of good for the State of Israel,” he said.
Meanwhile, the leader of the Haredi United Torah Judaism party was quick to walk back reported comments that he thought the opposition should consider picking a leader other than Netanyahu.
“We should also take stock of who is most worthy and who has the most chance of forming a government immediately without having to go to the polls,” Gafni reportedly said, before backtracking and saying he had not suggested that Netanyahu may not be his next pick to lead a government.
Last year Gafni said that perhaps the Likud party should have replaced Netanyahu as leader in order to avert the formation of the current government.
Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli of the Labor party said that the coalition was facing a crisis but she would work to keep the government together.
“We are in a difficult moment for the coalition. Crises in politics are something that happens and it is indeed not a simple crisis,” she said. “The Labor party and I are committed to making every effort to keep this government active, working and functioning.”
Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana responded to Yamina colleague Silman’s announcement in a radio interview, shortly after the news broke, saying that he hoped she would change her mind.
“I found out about it right now. I hope it is reversible. This government is doing good things for the people; it was formed because of a political exigency, but I think it is very worthwhile for it to continue to function,” the Yamina lawmaker said.
Yesh Atid MK Merav Ben-Ari expressed dismay that a Yamina leader was heading up the coalition while his lawmakers were the ones putting it in jeopardy.
“I was not surprised. The coalition is unstable. In the end, Silman has the world she comes from,” Ben-Ari told Army Radio.
“We chose to make Bennett prime minister because we knew how hard it was for Yamina [to agree to join the coalition], and in the end the party members, from [rebel Yamina MK Amichai] Chikli to Silman, are the ones putting the coalition into upheaval,” she said.