A key member of Naftali Bennett Yamina’s party has resigned from Israel’s coalition government after a row over unleavened bread over Passover, in a surprise move that left the prime minister without a parliamentary majority.
Edith Silman’s announcement led to Bennett’s coalition, a coalition of parties ranging from the Jewish right and Israeli doves to an Arab Muslim party, to get 60 seats – like the opposition.
I tried the path of unity. “I’ve worked a lot for this coalition,” Silman, a religious conservative who served as the coalition’s chairperson, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, I cannot participate in the damage to the Jewish identity of Israel.”
On Monday, Silman criticized the health minister, Nitzan Horowitz, after he instructed hospitals to allow sourdough bread products into their facilities during the Easter holiday, in line with a recent Supreme Court ruling repealing years of bans.
Jewish tradition forbids leavened bread from public places during Passover.
“I will end my coalition membership and will try to continue to convince my friends to come home and form a right-wing government,” Silman said. “I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.”
Bennett’s coalition can continue to govern with 60 seats, but is struggling to pass new legislation.
However, if another coalition member defects, the Knesset can hold a vote of no-confidence and may lead Israel again to the polls in a fifth parliamentary election in four years.
Dalia Sheindlin, a political analyst, said that if Silman was “the first person to really prepare to bring down the government, she is doing so from a place of conviction.” She is religious, Sheindlin added, “and I think we all underestimate the power of theology.”
In a formal resignation letter addressed to Bennett, Silman said, “We must admit that we tried. It is time to recalculate and try to form a Jewish-Zionist national government.”
After the announcement, Silman embraced the same right-wing politicians who have relentlessly attacked her since she followed Bennett into the ruling coalition last year, reneging on her election promises.
“Edit, you are proof that what guides you is the concern for the Jewish identity of Israel, the concern for the Land of Israel, and I welcome you home in the national camp,” the opposition leader, Benjamin NetanyahuHe said in a video recording.
The former right-wing prime minister added: “I call on those who were elected with the votes of the national camp to join EDIT and return home, you will be received with all honor and arms.”
Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister who held office from 1996 to 1999 and again from 2009 until last June, vowed to play the role of spoiler against the Bennett government, that ended his years of rule.
In a special session of the Knesset, on recess, Netanyahu said: “There is a weak government and obstructionism in Israel today. Its days are numbered.”
The Knesset will convene on May 8 to resume its legislative work. To form his own coalition without new elections, Netanyahu would need the support of at least 61 lawmakers, which he does not have.
Bezalel Smotrich of the Religious Zionism party, who was Bennett’s political partner, appreciated Silman for her “courage to take the difficult step,” and predicted that the ruling coalition would not survive her defection.
“This is the beginning of the end of the non-Zionist Bennett left government and the Islamic movement,” he wrote on Twitter.
There was no immediate comment from Bennett, whose Yamina party now holds just five of parliament’s 120 seats.
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