“Netanyahu was shocked, but I am at peace”

Coalition defector explains why she could no longer stomach “erosion of Jewish identity” under current government

By Ryan Jones | | Topics: Benjamin Netanyahu, Bennett
Right-wing voters earlier this week called on coalition whip Idit Silman to "redeem herself with a single act." In their eyes, she did just that days later by defecting to Netanyahu's opposition.
Right-wing voters earlier this week called on coalition whip Idit Silman to "redeem herself with a single act." In their eyes, she did just that days later by defecting to Netanyahu's opposition. Photo: Olivier Fitoussi/FLASH90

It was bound to happen. It was a notable achievement bringing together such disparate political parties to form Israel’s current unity government. But as many predicted, it just couldn’t last.

At the outset, the right-wing, centrist, left-wing and Islamist parties that make up the coalition agreed to avoid sensitive policy matters, and to instead focus on the broader issues of governing the nation, such as passing generally-acceptable national budgets and fighting COVID-19.

But that was easier said than done.

For many of these parties, their positions on those sensitive matters are part of their DNA, their very raison d’être as a political faction.

Take for instance the varied ways in which they relate to the biblical heartland. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s party Yamina is seen as the “settlers’ party,” the representative and champion of the hundreds of thousands of Jews living in Judea and Samaria.

But over the past year, Bennett began relating to these lands using the terminology of his more left-leaning coalition partners, “the West Bank.”

Idit Silman, the coalition whip whose abrupt defection has thrown the government into turmoil, cited this as one of the reasons for her move, which she says came as a surprise to everyone, including opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

Silman told the Hebrew-language news portal Zman Yisrael that she could no longer stomach the “erosion of Jewish identity. I saw it time and time again. After comes the erosion of values. Prime Minister Bennett talking about the ‘West Bank,’ wow. If I’m for the ‘West Bank,’ I’ll join Yesh Atid,” the centrist party of Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.

She said the more publicized row with Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz (of the ultra-secular Meretz party) over allowing hametz (leavened products) into public hospitals during Passover “was just the final straw.”

See: Unleavened Bread Threatens Bennett-Lapid Government


The writing was on the wall

It was a noble idea to bring together parties with different views and ideas to jointly run the country, though some see it as nothing more than a power grab. Ultimately it doesn’t matter, because it was never going to work, not long-term.

There’s no way to avoid those aforementioned sensitive issues forever, especially not in the Jewish state, and there was no possibility of any party compromising on or abandoning their core beliefs.

To use the above example, Yamina sees Judea and Samaria as the divine inheritance of the Jewish people. Meretz sees the Jewish presence there as an illegal occupation.

Those two positions cannot be reconciled. Nor can the position of the right-wing parties that Jewish tradition and religion should guide the state’s laws be reconciled with the left-wing insistence that this amounts to “religious coercion” that must be rooted out if Israel is to be a democratic state.


What now?

With Silman’s defection to the opposition, Bennett’s government lost its one-seat majority in Knesset. And there are concerns that additional members of Yamina will follow Silman’s example, leaving the prime minister with a parliamentary minority.

The current possibilities are:

  1. The government hobbles along until March 2023, when it must pass the next national budget. Doing so will be all but impossible, and the Knesset will automatically dissolve, resulting in new elections.
  2. New elections are called now, either voluntarily or as the result of a vote of no-confidence. But polls show the outcome will be similar to the last election, leaving neither side with a clear path to majority rule.
  3. The right-wing parties currently in the unity government put aside their disdain for Netanyahu and join his Likud party in forming a new government now, within the current Knesset.

Silman believes that third option is now a possibility.

Two of the right-wing parties in the government, Bennett’s Yamina and the New Hope party of Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, ran on platforms focused on removing Netanyahu from power. But now, a year into the unity government, polls show that both parties will struggle to pass the electoral threshold in a new election.

The right-wing constituency does not seem to think either party is worthy of continuing to represent them. If one had to guess, this is likely due to the same reasons that led Silman to exit the coalition, namely an erosion of what the right-wing voter base sees as the Zionist foundation of the Jewish state of Israel.

Bringing down what many right-wing voters see as an illegitimate left-leaning government and helping to establish a right-wing government with a firm majority could restore credibility and support to both Yamina and New Hope.

Will this happen? Hard to say. Both Bennett and Sa’ar previously insisted that their own personal political survival was not of great concern to them. Time will soon tell how true they are to their word.

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