Top Bennett ally Matan Kahana says he’s ‘exploring’ political future

Yamina MK wants to continue to represent moderate religious Zionists, says a government ‘of just one side’ is ‘very bad’ for country

Deputy Religious Affairs Minister MK Matan Kahana attends a discussion at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on June 15, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Deputy Religious Affairs Minister MK Matan Kahana attends a discussion at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on June 15, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana on Sunday said he is contemplating his political future, in the first first public remarks he has made on navigating the coming elections amid stark uncertainty in his Yamina party.

Kahana is a loyal ally of Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who handed over his position as prime minister to Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid last week after the two announced their big-tent coalition of eight parties could go on no longer whereupon the Knesset voted to dissolve itself and trigger elections.

Since then, Bennett, the leader of Yamina, said he was taking a break from politics and handed over the party leadership to his No. 2, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked.

Shaked is seen as open to partnering in a government with Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu after the coming elections, a step that Kahana appeared to rule out in a post on his social media accounts.

“My goal is to continue on the path that I started with Bennett,” he wrote. Bennett’s coalition of left-wing, centrist, and right-wing parties, along with the Islamist Ra’am party, ousted Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud together with their allied religious parties in June 2021, but then lost its narrow majority after three Yamina MKs quit the alliance.

Kahana vowed “to work with all my strength for a broad unity government out of the understanding that in the current political reality, a government of one side is a very bad thing for the country.”

He also pledged to continue to act to “strengthen the political identity of the country from a place of broad agreement and not religious wars.”

Kahana, who was in the midst of enacting broad reforms in the way Jewish religious affairs are handled, including weakening the sway of the ultra-Orthodox, wrote that he would continue to be the “home for moderate, inclusive religious Zionism.”

“I am currently exploring how I can best realize these aspirations,” he wrote.

The Srugim website, which is aligned with the religious Zionist community, speculated that Kahana could seek to join either the right-wing New Hope, led by Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, or Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked in the plenum hall of the Knesset, on June 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Bennett’s 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, joined the opposition, citing similar reasons and leaving Bennett without a majority in parliament. 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.

Thus, Shaked’s Yamina appears to be left with just three MKs, not including Bennett: Kahana, Shirley Pinto and Abir Kara. Of the three, Kahana is the most prominent. He was formerly the religious affairs minister but resigned as part of the efforts by Yamina to patch up its losses from defection, later returning as deputy minister though with the full powers of a minister.

Shaked will be going into the election as the head of a party that, even before Bennett’s announcement that he was quitting, was polling at five seats.

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