Science and Technology Minister Izhar Shay and MK Ram Shefa on Thursday announced they were leaving Blue and White, becoming the sixth and seventh lawmakers to exit the crumbling party in the runup to March elections.
Blue and White, which has 14 MKs in the outgoing coalition, has seen an exodus of lawmakers since the Knesset dissolved last week over the failure to pass a new budget, with the party flailing in the polls and leader Defense Minister Benny Gantz facing questions over his captaincy.
In a message sent to the party’s lawmakers, Shefa wrote, “We did not manage to bridge the deep gaps in outlook.”
“With great pain, but wholeheartedly, I am choosing to set out on a new path,” he wrote. “Benny, I especially thank you from the bottom of my heart for the great opportunity you have given me and for your faith in me.”
It was not clear if Shefa will resign from the Knesset or remain as an independent. In his message Shefa wrote to Gantz that “I am sure we will continue to influence, each from his position, as much as possible.”
Shay said he would remain in his post as science minister for as long as Gantz wants him there.
Hours later, Shay issued a statement saying he informed Gantz of his decision not to run with Blue and White in the upcoming elections and thanked him for the opportunity to be a minister for the party.
“I admire Benny, respect him very much and wish for Israel to have more leaders like him — with modesty, honesty, personal example, and unconditional sacrifice for the good of the state,” Shay said.
The moves came a day after Gantz’s No. 2, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, announced he was leaving the party, and politics. On Tuesday, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn bolted Blue and White for Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai’s new party. Nissenkorn, who was the No. 3 in Blue and White, announced his resignation as justice minister the next day.
Along with Ashkenazi and Nissenkorn, MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh said Tuesday she would not run as a candidate for Blue and White in the elections.
In addition to the five lawmakers who left of their own accord, on Sunday Gantz informed MKs Asaf Zamir and Miki Haimovich that they will not be included on the party’s electoral slate due to their decision to vote against extending the state budget deadline last week, ultimately causing the fall of the government. Science and Technology Minister Izhar Shay is also expected to leave.
In a defiant speech Tuesday, Gantz vowed to lead the ailing Blue and White in the elections in March, claiming the party had “saved the country” and set the course for the end of Netanyahu’s rule.
“You’re welcome to leave, the door is open,” Gantz said to would-be future deserters. But “here a strong and cohesive group will remain and work hard, only for the country.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Gantz reached an agreement that was supposed to see Gantz replace Netanyahu as prime minister in November 2021, but a loophole in the agreement saw the coalition collapse due to Netanyahu’s refusal to pass an annual budget.
Israel is consequently now gearing up for its fourth election in two years after the Knesset dissolved last week.