Yamina MK Nir Orbach said to tell associates he’ll back ‘change government’

Potential swing voter faces pro-Netanyahu rallies near his home, gets messages inviting him to his own funeral; fellow threatened MK Idit Silman set to become coalition whip

Yamina MK Nir Orbach arrives for a meeting with party leader Naftali Bennett at the latter's home in Ra'anana on June 4, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Yamina MK Nir Orbach arrives for a meeting with party leader Naftali Bennett at the latter's home in Ra'anana on June 4, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Yamina lawmaker Nir Orbach has told associates he intends to back an emerging coalition that would oust long-serving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Hebrew media reported Monday, after he spent several days on the fence amid intense pressure from both political camps.

Orbach, who has yet to publicly announce his position on the proposed “change government” his party chief Naftali Bennett agreed to form with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, has been facing demonstrations near his home in Petah Tikva by supporters of Netanyahu calling on him to oppose the nascent coalition.

Another demonstration was taking place Monday evening, and nearby roads were closed off.

Orbach will reportedly announce on Tuesday his final intention on the upcoming vote. Sources in Yamina had hoped he would announce his decision to support the government already on Monday night, but Orbach continued to hold out.

In addition to the activists who gathered to protest the expected new government outside his home in Petah Tikva, a group also gathered in support of the “change government.” But Orbach was not in his home for most of Monday evening since he was in the Knesset working on legislation.

The Knesset Guard decided Sunday to up the security around Orbach and fellow Yamina MK Idit Silman after they were targeted by activists.

Bennett was reportedly intending to hand Orbach a senior role in the government, with some reports saying he would be named settlements minister.

Silman, meanwhile, was being considered for the role of coalition whip, a challenging position in an unprecedentedly diverse coalition spanning right-wing, centrist, left-wing and Arab parties that enjoys the narrowest parliamentary majority possible, political sources told Zman Yisrael, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language sister site.

Silman could get the post since she has a good relationship with members of all parties, including the Islamist Ra’am, the sources said.

Only one woman has served as coalition whip in Israel’s history — Likud’s Sarah Doron in 1988.

Yamina MK Idit Silman arrives for coalition talks, at the Maccabiah village in Ramat Gan on June 2, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

On Sunday, Silman put in a request for her security to be bolstered, saying that she was being followed by activists. According to the Kan public broadcaster, Silman sent a voice message to the Yamina WhatsApp group while driving recently, claiming that she was being trailed.

“I don’t really feel good, there’s a car that’s chasing me on the street,” she told the group. “I’d like to know what you think I can do. They followed me out of the house and are following me everywhere I go.”

A car with a loudspeaker on the roof followed Silman’s vehicle, Channel 12 news reported.

She also pulled her children out of their educational institutions, and Army Radio said they had been “banned” from their youth movements.

On Monday, Channel 12 published a screenshot of a message that Orbach received that day inviting him to his own funeral.

The message said the funeral would be held Monday evening and accused Orbach of having “supported a government that harmed Shabbat and Torah study and brought Reform [Jews] and assimilation to the Holy Land.”

Another message included an invitation for mourners to sit shiva.

Associates of Orbach said in response: “Any protest can be legitimate to a certain point. Sending this message crosses a red line. It is time to come to our senses, lower the flames of hate and advance unity, because what unites us is greater than what separates us.”

Protesters outside the home of Yamina MK Nir Orbach in Petah Tikva on June 3, 2021 (Avshalom Sassoni/FLASH90)

Orbach, seen as a key swing vote on the coalition, has drawn attention because he has said he may resign from the Knesset rather than back the “change government,” but his replacement would be a Yamina party member who has already declared full support for the coalition.

Supporters of the potential incoming government have faced intense protests and threats over the past week ahead of a Knesset vote on the coalition that must be held by June 14.

Netanyahu’s son Yair was briefly blocked from posting on social media sites for publicly sharing Orbach’s address ahead of a protest outside his home. Orbach said in response that he supported the premier’s son’s right to free speech.

At least four of the seven Yamina lawmakers in the Knesset have now been given additional protection amid threats directed at them over the party joining up with MK Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid party. Party leader Naftali Bennett, the prime minister-designate, and No. 2 Ayelet Shaked had their security beefed up last week.

Head of the Yamina party Naftali Bennett, right, and Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked seen in the plenum hall of the Israeli parliament during the voting in the presidential elections, in Jerusalem, June 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Heavy pressure on a range of lawmakers who have indicated their support for the coalition is expected to continue until the June 14 deadline. The unprecedentedly diverse alliance of parties numbers 61 members in the 120-seat Knesset, and is thus vulnerable to any single defection.

The wave of threats has also been directed at members of other parties.

Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg, who is slated to become environment minister in the next government, fled her home last week following threats against her and her baby daughter. Uri Zaki, Zandberg’s partner, blamed Netanyahu for the incitement after the prime minister targeted her in a speech he made last week slamming the new coalition.

Shin Bet leader Nadav Argaman issued a rare warning Saturday night that the ongoing incitement could lead to political violence.

“This discourse may be interpreted among certain groups or individuals as one that allows violent and illegal activity and could even lead to harm to individuals,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a ceremony to honor medical workers and hospitals for their fight against the COVID-19 epidemic, in Jerusalem, on June 6, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

At a faction meeting of his Likud party on Sunday, Netanyahu said he condemned all incitement and violence but claimed that his allies were being singled out unfairly for criticizing their political opponents.

“The principle must be clear and uniform for everyone: Incitement and violence — and incitement to violence — will always be out of bounds,” he said.

“Criticism by the right can’t be treated as incitement and criticism by the left as a legitimate act of free speech. This is an effort to frame the right as something violent and dangerous to democracy,” he said.

Netanyahu also made the unfounded claim that “we are witnesses to the greatest election fraud in the history of the country and in my opinion the history of democracies.”

In a separate development Monday, the central committee of the Labor party overwhelmingly supported party leader Merav Michaeli’s decision to enter the government, with 97 percent of members backing the motion.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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