Problems keep mounting for Ayelet Shaked, the new head of the Yamina party, as opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly planning to batter the faction in his election campaign and one of its few remaining lawmakers may break off to form his own party.
Shaked, the interior minister, has been working to stabilize the party after becoming its leader last week. Former party leader Naftali Bennett stepped down as prime minister and announced he was leaving politics after his coalition crumbled. He gave control of the party to Shaked, his longtime political partner and Yamina’s No. 2, and handed the premiership over to Yair Lapid, per their coalition agreement.
Yamina was badly damaged by its time in power. Bennett’s decision to partner with left-wing parties and the Islamist Ra’am faction in the coalition last year gave Israel a functioning government after a series of inconclusive elections, but some of the right-wing party’s voters were unhappy with the move, and three of its seven Knesset members quit the coalition.
In recent polls, the party is dangerously close to or below the electoral threshold needed to make it into the Knesset in elections, and is facing new threats.
Yamina MK Abir Kara, one of three remaining members besides Shaked, is reportedly considering starting a new political party, Channel 12 reported on Friday.
Kara is planning to announce the launch of the party if he believes that Yamina has hit a dead end, the report said.
Kara joined Yamina last year ahead of elections. He was the head of an influential protest group representing independent business owners, and was expected to bring some of the group’s tens of thousands of supporters to Bennett’s party. The move came as Bennett attempted to expand Yamina’s appeal beyond religious voters.
Yamina’s other remaining Knesset members are Shirley Pinto and Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana, a close ally of Bennett and the most prominent of the three lawmakers.
Kahana is opposed to cooperating with Netanyahu and appears likely to split from Yamina to join another party. Shaked is seen as open to partnering in a government with Netanyahu.
Kara leans toward taking Kahana’s stance toward Netanyahu and ruling out a partnership with the opposition leader, Channel 12 reported.
Netanyahu does not believe Yamina will make it into the Knesset and plans to batter the party during the election campaign. If Yamina still manages to make it into the Knesset, then Netanyahu will decide how to handle the party, the report said.
Some of his own lawmakers in Likud worry Netanyahu is being motivated by personal animus, though, and that the strategy will be self-defeating, since Netanyahu may need Yamina to secure a majority in the Knesset after elections.
Netanyahu reportedly also fears Yamina will have outsize power in a prospective coalition as a party not already in the right-wing religious bloc, and will make steep demands while only holding a small number of Knesset seats.
The Channel 12 report said Shaked is unlikely to drop out of the election due to unfavorable polls or other factors and has decided to run to the end.
On Wednesday, in her first comments on the election since taking the reins of the party, Shaked called for a “broad national government” and political cooperation.
“In Israel’s political situation, we may be dragged into an abyss of polarization that will lead to real danger,” Shaked said.
“We need everyone to work together. Political rivals are not enemies,” she said. “I believe there are ways we can unite, connect and be together.”
Yamina won seven seats in the last election, but one of its lawmakers, Amichai Chikli, refused to join the coalition from the outset last June, saying it was straying too far from the party’s nationalist roots. Then in April, another lawmaker, Idit Silman, ditched the coalition, citing similar reasons and stripping Bennett of his majority in the Knesset. The final straw came last month when Yamina MK Nir Orbach declared he would not vote with the government, prompting the dissolution of the Knesset.
Party sources say Shaked has no inclination to keep Silman and Orbach in Yamina and notably did not include them in a party meeting on Sunday.
Shaked and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, the leader of the right-wing New Hope party, publicly traded fire on Monday in what will likely become a fierce fight for a portion of the right-wing electorate. Opinion polls suggest New Hope is also in danger of not making it back into the Knesset.
Israelis will go to the ballot box on November 1 for their fifth national election in under four years. Polls have generally not shown a path to a majority coalition for any party, without any changes in existing political alliances, although a survey on Friday predicted Netanyahu would be able to muster a narrow majority.