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Stability of Israel’s coalition in jeopardy

What happened: Coalition Chairwoman Idit Silman (Yamina) announced this morning that she is leaving the governing coalition.

  • She said she is resigning from the coalition on a matter of principle, citing “deep ideological differences” with the left-wing parties.
  • The trigger was Meretz’s Health Minister Horowitz’s decision that will allow hametz (food that is not kosher for Passover) to be brought inside hospitals during Passover.
  • She said she could no longer “lend a hand to the damage to the Jewish character” of Israel. She called for a right-wing government to be formed instead.
  • Horowitz said in response that he had merely said that hospitals needed to uphold the High Court of Justice’s ruling, to respect the entire public by maintaining freedom of religion, freedom from religion, equality and human dignity, without any coercion.
  • The resignation was supported by former Prime Minister and leader of the Opposition Benjamin Netanyahu, who congratulated Silman on her decision. He thanked her “in the name of many people in Israel that waited for this moment … I call on everyone who was elected with the votes of the nationalist bloc to join Idit and return home, you will be received with all due respect and open arms”.

Context: The decision could have dramatic consequences for the coalition, which has now lost its narrow majority and the Knesset is finely balanced 60-60.

  • The unprecedented rainbow coalition that includes two left-wing, two centrist, three right-wing parties and an Islamic Party has so far survived 10 months largely because it prioritised social and economic consensus issues.
  • Without a majority, the coalition will be unlikely to advance its legislative agenda, or pass the next budget unless it receives support from the Arab Joint List in the opposition.
  • The budget issue is less pressing as the next budget does need to be passed for another eleven months.
  • However, any decision to co-opt the support of the Joint List could further alienate other right-wing coalition members and encourage them to join Silman.
  • The government can only be replaced (without a general election) if it has a constructive majority of 61 and an agreed alternative candidate for prime minister. The Joint List are not expected to support a right-wing opposition parties to form a new government.
  • However, the opposition only needs one more rebel within the coalition, to tilt the balance and dissolve the current Knesset and force new elections.
  • This has been the favoured approach by Netanyahu, to target vulnerable right-wing members of the coalition, from within Yamina, New Hope and even Gantz’s Blue and White Party.
  • According to the bylaws of the Knesset, if another member of Yamina rebels, then together with Silman and (the other party rebel) Chikli, then three MKs will reach the threshold (a third of a faction) to formally break away to form an independent faction. This is the only route that will allow those specific MKs to stand for re-election.

Looking ahead: There is no imminent danger of the government’s collapse, as the Knesset is formally on recess for another five weeks.

  • The dramatic news appears to have caught Prime Minister Naftali Bennett off guard, who has cancelled his meetings this morning to focus on the political crisis.  As well as meeting with his advisers, he is expected to discuss the political crisis with alternate prime minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.
  • Despite the recess, the Knesset plenum will convene today for a special session, at the request of 25 opposition MKs in order to discuss the wave of terror.

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