Earlier this month, former Israeli governmental coalition chairwoman Knesset member Idit Silman of the Yamina Party dropped a bombshell. Shortly before 7 a.m. on April 6, she publicized a resignation letter she sent to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, chairman of Yamina, announcing her departure from the coalition.
The immediate significance of Silman’s move is that the government’s narrow advantage over the opposition—an advantage of a single vote—is now gone, and the opposition and coalition are at a tie.
In Israeli politics, a tie means that in all likelihood, the days of this government are numbered.
The current government, which has been in power for nine months, saw Yamina become the ruling party with just six Knesset seats. As Bennett worked to achieve world peace, attempting to mediate for a while between Russia and Ukraine, when it came to home turf, he fell asleep at the wheel and his political structure simply fell apart.
Silman is a first-time MK, serving her first term. She is from a religious-Zionist background, and it took some work to convince her to enter the unity government made up of right-wing, centrist, left-wing and Arab parties that have no common ideology.
She exhibited strong political-business abilities by securing the senior position of coalition chairwoman so early in her career.
One of the central features of her role is to act as the glue that binds the parties, maintaining unity. This is what Silman had engaged herself with since the coalition was formed.
Far from being an anonymous backbencher, she was the face of the coalition, playing a central role in maintaining the stability of the government. And then, one morning, she turned around and said she couldn’t go on anymore.
It’s crucial to understand why we need to look at things from Silman’s perspective. From its outset, the government was built out of incompatible puzzle pieces that seemed almost impossible to put together.
Yet to serve the greater goal of pushing aside former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the parties managed to make it work, and they deserve credit for that achievement. Still, it was only a matter of time until the glue came unstuck, and the coalition started to separate.
Bennett attempted to explain away Silman’s shocking resignation by avoiding personal criticisms of her, leaving an unlikely path open for her to return. He pointed out that she was under constant verbal attack and harassment by Netanyahu’s supporters, as well as more militant right-wing political forces like Knesset member Bezalel Smotrich, head of the Religious Zionist Party.
This is true. Silman went through nine difficult months, experiencing repeated accusations of being a traitor; even her children were harassed. Yet this is part and parcel of the political game, and the ability to stand up to such pressures should be built-in among those who play it.
Bennett played down the significance of her resignation by arguing that it was all down to external pressure on Silman and her husband.
Attention is now on Bennett’s closest partner, Interior Minister and Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked. Shaked is an example of another right-wing politician who entered this government with great reluctance and who has navigated a complex political situation ever since.
Now, Shaked must choose: Will she maintain allegiance to her political partner and remain with him until the government collapses, or should she dismantle the government herself and become the 61st vote in favor of the opposition, securing her legacy among the right-wing bloc?
Will she choose loyalty to Bennett or opt for hero status on the right?
Shaked brought with her to the government Yamina’s Nir Orbach, chairman of the Knesset Committee, and the deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Yamina’s Abir Kara.
The big question going forward is whether these three will move as a single unit. If they do, they would deal a fatal blow to Bennett’s position. As a result, the prime minister is intensively attempting to clarify Shaked’s goals. Ultimately, she holds the government’s fate in her hands.
As such, the Israeli political system has reached a rather absurd situation in which a prime minister who heads a party with six Knesset seats doesn’t even control all of the occupants of those six seats.
Currently, the Knesset is in recess, and Silman’s decision will not have any immediate influence in the coming weeks. On May 8, the Knesset will return, and then it will find itself in a situation in which it cannot pass significant laws. That puts the entire country into paralysis.
The right will seek to exploit the opportunity of a paralyzed government by searching for more defectors.
The coalition, for its part, understands that its days are numbered, and it is trying to do everything it can to survive, including appeasing the Joint Arab List, whose chairman, MK Ayman Odeh, called on Arab-Israeli members of the security forces to quit their position, a call that could constitute incitement.
The government could not wholeheartedly condemn his comments because it is fearful that may push him away. In light of the fact that Odeh should not be in the Knesset in the first place, this is a surreal development, but one that has been legitimized through the current political situation.
Despite all of the above, surprises can always occur in Israeli politics, including four election campaigns in the past two years.
We must therefore remain open to the option of further surprises and realize that another, currently unforeseen scenario, could always be around the corner.
Danielle Roth-Avneri is a publishing expert at The MirYam Institute. An Israeli political commentator, she appears on “This Morning Program” on Channel 13 Reshet TV. She is the former parliamentary correspondent for “Israel Hayom.”
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