Move comes after dramatic departure of coalition whip Silman

Yamina moves to label rebel Chikli a defector, in warning to party members

Lawmaker will be hamstrung in next round of elections, sending a message to colleagues mulling exit from no-majority coalition

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

Yamina MK Amichai Chikli at the Knesset swearing-in ceremony, on April 5, 2021. (Olivier Fitousi/Flash90)
Yamina MK Amichai Chikli at the Knesset swearing-in ceremony, on April 5, 2021. (Olivier Fitousi/Flash90)

Yamina moved to declare rebel MK Amichai Chikli a “defector” on Thursday afternoon, sending a strong message to the party’s MKs Nir Orbach and Abir Kara, who are both under close scrutiny as potential rebels following coalition whip MK Idit Silman’s dramatic departure on Wednesday.

“The Yamina faction decided to call a meeting of the Knesset House Committee in order to declare MK Amichai Chikli a defector from the party,” said a statement issued by the party spokesperson.

Orbach chairs the House Committee.

Chikli has been a Yamina MK in name only since last June, when he refused to support the investiture of the coalition in protest of its partnership with Islamist party Ra’am. He is not counted among the coalition’s then-61 — and now 60 — members, and has refused to vote in favor of key legislation, including the state budget.

He also voted against renewing the controversial Citizenship Law that prevents some Palestinians who marry Israelis from receiving permanent residency, despite being ideologically aligned with the law. As a result of opposition wrangling, the contentious vote doubled as a no-confidence vote in the government, and Chikli voted against the government in it.

However, the party had hitherto elected not to take the step of labeling him a defector, hoping to court Chikli’s support on selected matters.

Yamina MK Nir Orbach attends a Knesset committee meeting, on September 25, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The designation is a blow to Chikli’s political aspirations, as Knesset rules prevent him from running with any faction currently sitting in the parliament in the next elections, which — if the government collapses without an alternative proposal from the opposition — could be declared soon.

Chikli, however, could potentially form a new political faction, something he has recently hinted that he is considering.

The move is a warning to MKs Orbach and Kara, both of whom met with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, the leader of the Yamina party, on Wednesday, without issuing statements.

On Thursday morning, Orbach issued what his office called an “ultimatum” to Bennett, demanding concessions in three key areas in exchange for remaining in the coalition. Later in the day, he received a partial answer on one of them, when Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman delayed until 2023 implementation of a plan to put qualification restrictions on daycare subsidies for yeshiva students.

Kara, who was reportedly close to quitting the coalition on Wednesday night and has been a holdout on coalition priorities in the past, on Thursday said that he might stay if his economic priorities were addressed.

Yamina’s move was also a threat to Silman, who herself may be labeled a defector and sanctioned, dashing her reported hopes of running in the next elections with Likud. Likud also reportedly made overtures to her about becoming health minister — a highly unlikely role for her if she were not first elected to Knesset.

Knesset rules do leave an escape valve for MKs who wish to leave their parties. If more than 30 percent of a party splits off to create a new faction — in Yamina’s case, three MKs — then they cannot be sanctioned as defectors.

If the Knesset does dissolve and go to elections, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid would automatically become interim prime minister, in line with a coalition agreement that shifts the premiership away from a party that causes the government’s downfall.

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