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Key member of Israeli PM Bennett’s party rebels, says she will vote with opposition – is government poised to collapse?

Netanyahu praises move by Yamina MK Idit Silman in a likely bid to woo her to his Likud party

Idit Silman, Head of the Health Committee leads a committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, Nov. 16, 2021. (Photo: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Israeli political scene and the unlikely government that has managed to hold together for nine months were thrown into chaos this morning when the coalition whip, Idit Silman – a member of Naftali Bennett's Yamina party – announced she will no longer vote with the coalition.

The biggest fear in the coalition right now is whether Silman’s announcement will spark more defections and collapse the government, sending the country to new elections.

Opposition members quickly lined up to praise Silman, likely in a bid to woo her to one of their parties thereby upsetting the fragile set up of the government and causing new elections. Silman is not resigning her position as Knesset member but will withdraw her promise to vote with the coalition.

The coalition has a flimsy majority of just one vote and was able to pass legislation with a 61-to-59 vote, but now the loss of Silman’s vote following her announcement means crucial legislation will be deadlocked.

Silman made the shock announcement before 7 a.m. this morning and said it was connected to “harming” of Jewish identity in Israel.

“I will not abet the harming of the Jewish identity of the State of Israel and the people of Israel. I will continue to try to persuade my friends to return home and form a right-wing government,” she said in a statement. “I know I am not the only one who feels this way. Another government can be formed in this Knesset.”

According to several reports, most Knesset members, including Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, were not informed and many heard the announcement from the media which was set into high gear on all of the morning shows.

Perhaps the most elated lawmaker was opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu who quickly posted a video passing Silman’s “courageous move.”

“I was very moved to hear Knesset Member Idit Silman’s statement, and I congratulate her on behalf of the masses of the people of Israel who yearned for this moment,” Netanyahu said. “I call on all those elected by the national camp to join Idit and come home, you will be received with complete respect and with open arms.”

Netanyahu was likely calling to many members of Yamina and New Hope, two right-wing parties, the latter of which was formed by mostly all former Likud members who did not want to work with Netanyahu any more.

The new party, along with the Muslim party, Ra’am, pushed the government over the 61-seat majority to form a ragtag coalition of parties from all ends of the spectrum – far right to far left with the Islamists in between. The government wasn’t expected to last this long, but not only did it survive, it was responsible for accomplishments that even Netanyahu could not brag about, such as passing a two-year budget after Israel went a few years without a national budget.

Israel even hosted a historic summit last week with the leaders of Arab nations and the United States under the guise of the Abraham Accords.

But next to crucial issues such as this summit, the war in Ukraine and a new wave of terrorism that is threatening Israel’s security, the supposed reason for Silman’s withdrawal from the coalition was allegedly over a disputed religious issue regarding hametz – leavened products which are not kosher for Passover. The holiday begins on April 15

According to the biblical command, Jews are forbidden to eat leavened products and the most strict observers clean their homes, expunging any trace of leaven during the weeklong holiday. Some sell their leavened products to Gentiles and either end the deal there or buy them back after Passover ends.

Silman clashed with Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, leader of the left-wing Meretz party, who told hospitals they had to abide by a 2020 Supreme Court ruling which allows patients and visitors to bring such products with them if they want.

Silman, who is Orthodox, warned that Israel is in danger of losing its Jewish identity. She said this was “crossing the red line” and called for Horowitz to be fired.

Silman also opposed a compromise that would allow Jews from other non-Orthodox denominations to pray at the Western Wall.

“There’s a status quo with the Western Wall that I don’t think is going to change. All of the attention around this is just demagoguery. This is a house of prayer. There’s a minority – a Reform minority – that is making a lot of noise as though it’s the majority. We need to say the truth: That’s not the case,” Silman said about that controversial decision. “This government and certainly we – or at least I – need to preserve the Orthodox character of the Western Wall.”

In the past few months, Likud has attacked Silman, among other members of Yamina, for forming a government without Netanyahu.

Nicole Jansezian was the news editor and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS.

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