After Silman mutiny, all eyes on who might jump coalition ship next
Following Yamina MK Idit Silman’s dramatic departure from the government Wednesday, politicians and observers are focusing on the possibility of further defections from the wounded coalition, which has now been deprived of its legislative majority.
Further defections could be critical to opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to topple the current government and either install a new one or trigger new elections.
Currently, the government holds 60 seats, while the opposition’s 60 seats are divided into 54 who back a religious-right wing coalition, and six held by the largely Arab Joint List, which opposes both the current government and Netanyahu.
To achieve the critical 61-seat majority necessary to replace the current government with a new one, right-wing opposition parties need to entice seven more defectors to their camp — a tall order.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party is considered a prime target, though the entire six-person faction would not be enough to secure Netanyahu a 61-vote majority.
Silman is the second lawmaker from Yamina to defect — the first being MK Amichai Chikli who went rogue when the government was formed last year — and many eyes have now turned to MK Abir Kara.
According to Channel 12 news, the deputy minister held a meeting in secret with Silman and Chikli Wednesday, during which the three formulated a potential agreement to officially split away from Yamina.
Channel 12 also said that Kara lied to Bennett about the meeting, telling him that it was an attempt to convince Silman to walk back her decision. Kara is reportedly still mulling the agreement.
Further pressure on Yamina MKs arrived on Wednesday afternoon from Rabbi Chaim Druckman of the religious Zionism movement, among which Yamina finds much of its base. Giving a rare statement, Druckman both applauded Silman’s defection and encouraged Torah-adherent MKs to follow suit.
“I congratulate MK Idit Silman for the brave and worthy step she took,” said Druckman, adding, “I call on the other members of the national Knesset for whom the Torah is important to join Idit and form a national Zionist government as soon as possible.”
Another Yamina member who has long been dissatisfied with the unity government is Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked.
While Silman reportedly made a deal with the Likud — defection in exchange for a plum spot on the party’s election slate and a possible future role as health minister — it’s unclear if the Likud would offer the same warm welcome to Shaked, who has a history of bad blood with Netanyahu.
Another weak link could be MK Nir Orbach, who has spoken publicly about his discomfort with coalition policies, including those he perceives as anti-settler.
Chikli, while maintaining Yamina affiliation in name, has been openly identifying with the opposition since the formation of the eclectic government — in large part in protest over its composition, which includes left-wing and Arab parties. On Monday he gave an interview to Army Radio that may have been prescient, raising the possibility of forming a new faction from among the coalition’s right-wing members that could appeal to people who voted for Yamina and New Hope.
Defections are seen as less likely from New Hope, a party filled with former Likud lawmakers whose platform was based largely on opposition to Netanyahu’s style of rule.
An even bigger prize could be the center-left Blue and White party which, with eight seats, is the second-largest faction in the coalition. Speculation in recent weeks has swirled around party MK Michael Biton, seen as a possible candidate to jump ship. The head of the economic affairs committee, Biton is rumored to have long been courted by Likud.
The real coup would be securing the support of Defense Minister and Blue and White party head Benny Gantz, who has had an increasingly tense relationship with the coalition.
During the winter Knesset session, Gantz was so frustrated with his inability to advance his legislative platform that he sabotaged the coalition’s voting plans for a week.
The former military chief, though, was previously burned by Netanyahu and would not easily ally with the former prime minister again. Gantz’s decision to partner with the Likud leader in 2020 was widely viewed as a costly political blunder, though pundits’ predictions that it would end with voters abandoning him en masse proved largely untrue.
It’s unclear what Netanyahu could possibly promise Gantz that would woo him over, or anyone else, over, though. The Likud head promised Gantz in 2020 that he would rotate the premiership with him, and then wriggled out of the agreement, sending Israelis back to the polls.
Unless the opposition pulls off an upset and manages to pull seven seats out of its sleeve, another round of elections may yet again be the likeliest scenario for Israel’s future.