Leave the party, but give back the mandate

Israel's legislature must address the legal loophole that allows MKs to resign from parties or coalitions and take their mandates with them.

A plenum session at the Knesset in Jerusalem, Feb. 28, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
A plenum session at the Knesset in Jerusalem, Feb. 28, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Nechama Duek. Source: Twitter.
Nechama Duek

Who is actually given a mandate to govern—an Knesset member or a party? What is the connection between someone elected in party primaries and someone placed on a party list? And what happens when disputes emerge? Should the mandate be returned because it belongs to a party, or should an MK take it and start to wander around the Knesset like an alien freed from the earth’s gravitational pull?

MKs elected in primaries can prove they were chosen by party members and earned their places on their lists. But what about those who were slotted in? They came out of nowhere. Their party leaders put them there, and that’s it.

There are different kinds of slots. MK Galit Distel Etebaryan is thankful to Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who assigned her 10th place on the party list. She is one of those MKs who won’t hesitate to quote the party’s talking points, whose positions are aligned with those of the leader who put them on the list and have arrived at a remarkable level of symbiosis.

The other kind can be seen in MK Amichai Chikli, whom Prime Minister Naftali Bennett brought into Yamina, surrounded by the glory of the pre-military preparatory academy he founded and directed. He was secular, right-wing and good-looking. He praised Bennett and Yamina, and of course, spoke against Netanyahu and the Likud. After the “government of change” was founded, Chikli changed his mind and decided that Netanyahu was the man for him. He resigned from Yamina, but never for a second considered whether he should resign from the Knesset, give back his mandate and get on with his life. He remained an MK, as if he alone had brought Yamina 50,000 votes—the number required for a single mandate in the most recent election—when it was clear that the votes had been for Bennett and Ayelet Shaked.

Then there is the newly-slotted Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi of Meretz, whom party leader Nitzan Horowitz just made number four on the list. She does not come from the Meretz ranks and did not run in the party primaries. Some claim that she was slotted in to keep Esawi Frej from being elected. Meretz got lucky and won six mandates in the election, and they both joined the Knesset. When Frej, a veteran Meretz member, was appointed to a ministerial post and spoke about cooperation between Jews and Arabs, Zoabi stayed out of it.

Someone sensed the potential damage she could do and spearheaded a campaign to have her appointed Israel’s consul to Shanghai. Last week, it turned out that she indeed could do major damage. In fact, she could bring down the coalition and bring about Meretz’s political death. Rinawie Zoabi resigned from the coalition and sent out an audacious, disrespectful letter. The letter wasn’t addressed to her party leader, whom she didn’t bother to inform of her plans, but rather to the prime minister and alternate prime minister. But it never even crossed her mind to return her mandate. People will now beg her to, and she might agree; but until then, she will be suspected of torpedoing the coalition.

We can also add Eli Avidar, who disconnected himself from his mothership, Yisrael Beytenu, and is threatening everyone; along with Idit Silman, who was elected in Yamina after she flip-flopped her way out of Habayit Hayehudi under Rafi Peretz to join Bennett and Yamina as the list was being closed.

The case of Distel Etebaryan can be understood and respected. She took on the Likud’s positions and those of its leader and has behaved accordingly. Chikli, Rinawie Zoabi, Avidar and Silman are harder to understand and overlook. They barely got the votes of their families and close friends. Israel’s legislature must address this issue, close the loophole that allows MKs to take their mandates with them when they resign and put an end to this anarchy. The mandate has to be returned, immediately.

Nechama Duek is a journalist and political commentator.

This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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