Bread threatens to sink Israel's government
Knesset Member Idit Silman quit the ruling coalition after a row with Health Minister over leavened bread in hospitals during Passover. Israel’s parliament is now evenly split: 60/60. More defections are possible. This opens the door to a fifth election in two years and a possible Netanyahu comeback.
Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – The government of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett could be history in a few days undone by bread.
The parties in the ruling coalition range from the Jewish religious right to Arabs, united by the shared goal of getting rid of Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, after ten years in power.
Early elections are likely to follow if the government falls, a record fifth in just over three years.
Idit Silman, a lawmaker with Yamina, the prime minister’s own party, quit the ruling coalition, leaving the Knesset evenly split: 60/60 for and against the government.
The opposition however might not benefit since it is even more divided and unable so far to propose an alternative that could give rise to a new coalition, and allow Netanyahu to make a spectacular comeback after 10 months.
Still, Silman’s departure caused a political earthquake, taking Prime Minister Bennett by surprise.
According to some well-informed sources, he was not warned in advance about the lawmaker’s defection.
By contrast, Netanyahu welcomed her decision, pledging that if he formed a new government, she would get a cabinet post.
As a party, Yamina has its roots in the religious and Zionist right. Silman’s exit however stems from a row with Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, “guilty” in her eyes of allowing leavened bread into hospitals during Passover.
While the minister’s decision violated Jewish religious rule that allows only unleavened bread, it followed a 2019 Supreme Court ruling banning hospital guards from checking visitors in search of unkosher bread.
The two former allies were also on opposite sides on another major issue, as Silman belongs to an association opposed to abortion.
Health has played a major role in her life both before and after she entered politics. She backed a bill that would allow Israeli soldiers to freeze their sperm for assisted fertilisation in the event of death in battle.
In her belated letter of resignation to the prime minister yesterday, Silman explains that she could not support a government that did not defend “the Jewish identity of the country”.
Once again, the cleavage seems to be the nature of the State of Israel, pitting those who view it as a country based on a secular notion of citizenship and those who stress its Jewish identity. The issue came to the fore recently over the reception of Ukrainian refugees.
What the future has in store is an open question. According to some analysts cited in Israeli media, there are four different possible scenarios.
The ruling coalition could suffer more defections, which would lead to early elections.
Defence Minister Benny Gantz could switch to the opposition and become prime minister in rotation with Netanyahu rather than someone else within Likud.
Netanyahu himself could be charged with forming a government, a prospect few believe possible.
Finally, the ruling coalition could stay in power as a caretaker government until 2023 with Yair Lapid as prime minister until a new budget is passed.