Otzma Yehudit MK Cohen is ousted from Knesset panel over insubordination to Ben Gvir

Party leader carries out sanction announced 2 weeks ago over lawmaker’s stance on budget boycott; MK Limor Son Har-Melech to take his spot on Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee

File: Otzma Yehudit MK Almog Cohen at the Knesset on November 22, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
File: Otzma Yehudit MK Almog Cohen at the Knesset on November 22, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Otzma Yehudit lawmaker Almog Cohen was formally ousted Monday evening from the prestigious Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, two weeks after the leader of the far-right coalition party, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, announced the sanction.

Cohen reportedly infuriated Ben Gvir last month by publicly criticizing an ultimatum issued by the party leader to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding the since-approved state budget.

Ben Gvir had threatened to boycott the budget votes — which would have effectively toppled the government — unless hundreds of millions of shekels were added to the party’s Ministry for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee. But Cohen stated publicly that he would vote in favor of the budget no matter what, and also held a private meeting with Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, which was seen as going behind Ben Gvir’s amid the negotiations.

A solution was eventually agreed on that standoff, securing Otzma Yehudit’s support for the budget. In return, the Negev and Galilee Ministry was set to receive an additional NIS 250 million ($68.3 million) in 2024, with the money coming from leftover funds that other government ministries do not spend from their budgets this year.

On Monday, the Knesset spokesperson’s office said that House Committee chair Ofir Katz had formally notified the plenum that Cohen was being ousted from the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

As expected, Cohen was replaced by fellow Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech.

Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech attends a debate in the Knesset plenum, November 22, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

In response to the sanction, announced on May 23, Cohen tweeted at the time that he did not think it was the appropriate time for score-settling.

“At a time when crime in the Negev and Galilee is rampant and civilians are being murdered in the street, it is better to deal with creating solutions and less with personal vendettas,” Cohen wrote.

The far-right MK said he was “proud” of his unwavering stance and “sad to hear” about his ejection from the committee, implying that he viewed his ouster as being engineered by Chanamel Dorfman, Ben Gvir’s chief of staff.

“I’m just wondering who will replace me, Chanamel?” Cohen tweeted at the time.

Dorfman had reportedly written in the Otzma Yehudit party WhatsApp group before Cohen was stripped of his committee membership: “I’m beginning to think that Almog is only interested in Almog, not in Itamar, Otzma Yehudit or residents of the Negev.”

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