Smotrich alleged to have written Silman’s letter of resignation from coalition

Religious Zionism party head, a bitter critic of the prime minister, refuses to comment on report

Tal Schneider is a Political Correspondent at The Times of Israel

(L) Religious Zionist leader Bezalel Smotrich  speaks during a Knesset faction meeting, on July 12, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90) and (R) Idit Silman at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on November 8, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
(L) Religious Zionist leader Bezalel Smotrich speaks during a Knesset faction meeting, on July 12, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90) and (R) Idit Silman at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on November 8, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A report claimed Wednesday that Yamina MK Idit Silman’s letter of resignation from the coalition was in fact written by, or with the help of, opposition Religious Zionism party leader MK Bezalel Smotrich.

Smotrich is a harsh critic of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, his former political ally, and has engaged in frequent public spats with the premier.

According to the Haredi news site Kikar Hashabbat, “Bezalel Smotrich’s office” was listed as the creator of the document and had worked on the letter, according to the document properties.

In an interview with the Kan public broadcaster on Wednesday, Smotrich refused to comment on the report or confirm that he had been involved in the writing of the letter.

Some suggested that the labeling on the document could have a more simple explanation, such as the possibility that Silman or her office are in possession of a computer that was originally Smotrich’s.

Smotrich used to be a member of Yamina, until he left to form his own party with Itamar Ben Gvir and several other far-right politicians in the run-up to the March 2021 elections.

This week the premier censured the Religious Zionism leader over tweets accusing the government of responsibility for the recent wave of terror attacks.

“Whoever posts such a thing, whoever dances on the blood of the dead, represents neither Zionism nor the religious,” Bennett said after Smotrich sarcastically thanked “Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and her friends in the Yamina party” for “creating a coalition with leftist terror supporters.”

Naftali Bennett (R) and Bezalel Smotrich of the right-wing Yamina party hold a press conference in Jerusalem on May 14, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The report that Smotrich may have been involved in the drafting of the letter came hours after Silman said she was quitting the coalition because it was “harming” Jewish identity in Israel.

Her resignation from the coalition means that the government no longer has a majority.

According to reports, Silman did not tell Bennett — head of the Yamina party of which she is a member — of the move in advance, leaving the premier to learn through media reports that he had lost his majority.

Silman’s announcement means the government will only be able to pass legislation with support from opposition lawmakers. The only party that would perhaps provide it with votes for some legislation would be the Joint List of Arab factions, but its support would only serve to further alienate coalition parties on the right and Yamina’s voters.

Idit Silman speaks in the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 28, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to reports, she is set to join Likud in the opposition, giving Benjamin Netanyahu’s party two main potential paths to return to power. The first option would be for it to pass a law to dissolve the Knesset. To pass, this would require the support of at least 61 of the 120 members of Knesset.

The bill would therefore necessitate the widespread backing of the current opposition, including members of the six-strong Joint List of Arab lawmakers, and the support of some lawmakers not currently in the opposition, for example Silman and rebel Yamina MK Amichai Chikli.

With the Knesset in recess, scheduling a vote on such a bill is thought to be unlikely before the weeklong Passover festival which begins at the end of next week, but could be arranged soon after that.

(If such a bill were to pass, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid would be automatically appointed prime minister for the transition period through new elections and the establishment and swearing-in of a new government.)

The second option would be for Likud to form an alternative government in the current 24th Knesset, although it appears it would struggle to do so — Likud has 29 seats, Religious Zionism has seven, Shas has nine and United Torah Judaism has seven — a total of 52.

Even if Yamina were to split apart, and Silman and Chikli were able to convince other defectors to join them, such as Shaked and MK Nir Orbach, that would only take a Likud-led bloc to 56 seats out of the 120-member Knesset. It would still need further support from within the current coalition ranks, such as, potentially, disaffected members of Benny Gantz’s eight-strong Blue and White party.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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