Silman: 'We are not the defectors'

Renegade Yamina MK Chikli ousted from party as Knesset panel declares him a defector

Committee approves party’s request after lengthy and stormy debate throughout the day; rebel MK told panel that unlike the PM, he remains ideologically committed to base

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

MK Amichai Chikli at a Knesset House Committee meeting on the Yamina party's request to declare him a 'defector,' on April 25, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Amichai Chikli at a Knesset House Committee meeting on the Yamina party's request to declare him a 'defector,' on April 25, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Knesset House Committee on Monday authorized Yamina’s request to oust renegade Yamina MK Amichai Chikli, after raucous deliberations that stretched out for some 12 hours.

The move, which carries significant personal sanctions on Chikli, is widely seen as a sign to other Yamina lawmakers to stay in line after former coalition whip Idit Silman destroyed the coalition’s majority by leaving it in early April. Yamina filed its request to eject Chikli from the party a day after Silman’s departure.

Chikli will now be barred from running in any existing Knesset faction in the next election, among other punitive measures.

Seven members of the committee voted in favor of declaring Chikli a defector, while three, including Silman, did not participate in the vote.

During the lengthy debate, accusations flew between Chikli, his supporters in the opposition and representatives from his faction that was endeavoring to oust him.

Silman, who is a member of the committee, said during the hearing that “I felt that I am loyal to my values ​​and to my voters. This hearing is vengeful.”

Grouping herself with Chikli, she said: “We are not the defectors, we are going with the promises, the platform and the values ​​we promised to Yamina voters.”

The flagging government has been gentle with Silman in the hopes of still being able to rely upon her cooperation. At a minimum, it hopes Silman may abstain from voting against the coalition.

Chikli and his supporters claim that diverging with the party over ideological grounds may be allowed under Knesset rules, and that Chikli has maintained Yamina’s electoral promises while the party has abandoned them.

The party, represented by Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana, has in turn claimed that Chikli actively worked against the Yamina-led government – from refusing to vote for its investiture to voting no-confidence in the government to voting against key legislation.

Chikli, in one of many attacks on his faction, told the Knesset panel that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his allies in Yamina “landed a fatal and shameful blow” to the contract between voters and elected representatives, “and the damage they caused to Israeli democracy will take a long time to repair.”

Former coalition whip and Yamina MK Idit Silman speaks with Likud faction chair MK Yariv Levin during the Knesset House Committee hearing on Yamina’s request to declare MK Amichai Chikli a ‘defector’ from the party, April 25, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“A horrific spectacle of such a sweeping and blatant violation of all the most important core commitments that constitute the very ideological core of a right-wing party is an unprecedented event in the history of Israel,” he added.

Chikli said that “unlike the person who made the request” for the hearing, meaning Bennett, he “won’t lie,” and attacked the premier for his about-face on campaign promises to not collaborate with left-wing parties.

Kahana, meanwhile, told Chikli: “You defected from us because you did not have the courage to go through what we are going through for the country. What our friend Idit went through in the last year.”

The last comment appeared to underline the subtext of the hearing as a warning to Silman.

Kahana’s remarks, which preceded Chikli’s, were heavily heckled by opposition MKs, who interrupted him frequently. By the end of the raucous repartee, a handful of opposition MKs were removed from the hearing for their conduct.

Likud MK Miri Regev called Eitan Ginzburg, who was chairing the hearing, a “colonialist pig,” while Keren Barak denounced him as a “wretched dictator.”

Likud MK Orly Levy-Abekasis is ejected from the Knesset House Committee hearing on Yamina’s request to declare MK Amichai Chikli a ‘defector’ from the party, April 25, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yamina lawmakers have largely refrained from rebuking Silman over her cataclysmic resignation from the government that she, as coalition whip, had been entrusted to uphold. Rather, they have downplayed Silman’s ideological criticism of Yamina and pushed the narrative that Silman cowed to extreme pressure from anti-coalition activists and politicians. While she has cited both reasons in the past, Silman is reportedly frustrated by Yamina’s insistence that she quit the coalition for emotional reasons.

Silman entered the meeting to a round of hugs from opposition MKs and initially sat to the left of Likud faction leader Yariv Levin. Bennett and his second-in-command, Shaked, were not present.

Kahana focused on disputing Chikli’s long-held stance that he did not defect from Yamina, but rather that Yamina abandoned its own professed values.

“MK Chikli, if values were the basis of your decision, how did you dare to vote against the Citizenship Law? How did you dare to vote against a clear security interest of the State of Israel?” Kahana said, adding that Chikli had agreed ahead of time to vote in favor and then did the opposite.

In all, Chikli voted against Yamina’s position 754 times, including against the state budget, Kahana said.

“The legal situation before us is simple, clear and unequivocal: MK Amichai Chikli has taken every possible action to defect from the Yamina faction and is actively working against the faction and with a clear aim to harm it and its leaders,” said the minister.

Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana delivers a statement during the Knesset House Committee hearing on Yamina’s request to declare MK Amichai Chikli a ‘defector’ from the party, April 25, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Chikli held his tongue for the first six hours of the hearing, opting instead for representation by his lawyer, Guy Busy.

Busy focused on his interpretation of the law governing conditions by which an MK can be sanctioned as a defector to his party, specifically in Basic Law: The Knesset. Section 6a states that prohibitions against running with existing parties in the next elections can be levied against an MK who votes no-confidence against his or her party’s stance on a coalition, provided that the MK received a benefit for it.

“An MK that leaves for ideological reasons but does not receive a benefit for it is not a defector,” said Busy.

In his three-and-a-half hour long remarks, Busy also raised Chikli’s longstanding argument that the rebel MK has been loyal to Yamina’s electoral platform, and accused Chikli’s fellow party members of abandoning the party’s values in order to form the current coalition.

Prior to Monday’s hearing, Chikli made several thwarted attempts to shape the hearing, including trying to delay it and to force Bennett and Shaked to attend it in person. On Sunday, Chikli withdrew a petition to the High Court of Justice, after receiving indication that the court would not interfere with the Knesset hearing.

In line with Section 61 of the Knesset Law, Chikli will remain an independent MK and cannot join another faction this Knesset term. He has the right to appeal the Knesset House Committee’s decision to the Jerusalem District Court.

MK Amichai Chikli (L) confers with his lawyer Guy Busy during the Knesset House Committee hearing on Yamina’s request to declare him a ‘defector’ from the party, April 25, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

While the law is unspecific on the amount of time Chikli would have to leave Knesset in order to avoid sanction, the Israel Democracy Institute’s Assaf Shapira thinks that appealing may freeze the clock on resigning in order to avoid sanction, whereby Chikli can “buy himself time before making the decision about whether or not to leave the Knesset.”

Most significantly, Chikli is barred from running with any existing Knesset faction in the next elections. The first-time lawmaker has, for the past several weeks, made overtures about forming or joining a new party in the next electoral contest, which is widely expected to come before the end of the current government’s full term.

The now-independent lawmaker can avoid sanctions if he decides to quickly resign from the Knesset, a move that Yamina insiders think is unlikely. However, should Chikli leave Knesset, his seat would revert back to Yamina, which would fill it with an MK amenable to sitting with the coalition and thereby restore its slim 61-seat majority.

Chikli is the third MK to be ejected from a party. Most recently, former MK Orly Levy-Abekasis was ejected in 2017 from her first political home, Yisrael Beytenu, 10 months after operating as an independent MK in protest of Yisrael Beytenu’s entry into a Likud-led government under terms she opposed.

Levy-Abekasis went on to form a new party, Gesher, which failed to cross the threshold in its first election, but banded with Labor and Meretz to enter Knesset in another election shortly thereafter. Today, she is an MK with Likud.

In the 16th Knesset, former Yisrael Beytenu MK Michael Nudelman was also removed from his then-National Union faction, asking to leave in order to support Kadima and Israel’s unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip.

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