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The Israeli government in crisis after the departure of a senior coalition official

JERUSALEM — Israel’s fragile government was plunged into crisis on Wednesday after a senior lawmaker left the coalition, leaving it without a majority in parliament.

Idit Silman, the chairwoman of the governing coalition and effectively her chief whip, said in a letter to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett that she was resigning because her coalition colleagues had failed to compromise and the leadership government did not reflect the values ​​of the voters who brought his party to power. She said it was time to change course and try to form a new “national, Jewish, Zionist” coalition with right-wing lawmakers.

The move follows protracted tensions between left-wing, secular, Arab and right-wing members of the coalition, a fractured group of eight parties that agreed to work together only last June after four inconclusive elections in two years had failed. left the country without a functioning government or a state budget.

The issue came to a head this week after leftist Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz ordered authorities to uphold a Supreme Court ruling allowing patients to bring sourdough bread into hospitals during the upcoming Jewish holiday. of Passover. Ms. Silman, a right-wing and religious lawmaker, opposed the measure, which contravenes Jewish law.

“I will not be able to lend a helping hand to the damage done to the State of Israel and to the Jewish character of the Israeli people,” Ms. Silman said in an earlier statement published by N12, one of Israel’s leading private media groups. ‘Israel. “I am ending my membership in the coalition and will continue to try to persuade my colleagues to return home and form a right-wing government. I know I’m not the only one feeling this. »

The coalition crisis comes at a delicate time after a series of deadly terrorist attacks that had already put pressure on the government. Israeli security forces remain on high alert amid fears of further unrest and violence over the next month, as the rare convergence of Ramadan, Passover and Easter is expected to further heighten tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.

Ms Silman’s resignation means the government can only count on the support of 60 members of the 120-seat parliament, losing the wafer-thin one-seat majority it has had since June.

But his departure from the coalition does not mean the government will immediately collapse or give a parliamentary majority to the opposition, which is led by Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister. Netanyahu hailed Silman’s decision in a brief video posted to social media, and he encouraged other right-wing coalition members to follow her lead.

Parliament is also in recess for another five weeks, so there is unlikely to be a vote of no confidence in the government in the near future. But once back in session, the government will not be able to pass legislation without the support of opposition lawmakers, which could encourage other disgruntled coalition members to also announce their resignations.

The return to power of Mr. Netanyahu, tried for corruption, remains complicated and far from certain.

But in a speech during a special parliamentary debate called by the opposition on Wednesday on what it described as the government’s inaction in the face of a wave of terrorism, Netanyahu called on more members of the coalition “whose heart is in the right place” for default and said the days of the current government were numbered.

“Join Idit, join us,” Netanyahu said. “Come back home.”

A spokeswoman for Mr Bennett, who is also the leader of Ms Silman’s party, Yamina, declined to comment immediately.

Ms. Silman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Mr. Bennett was holding a series of meetings on Wednesday with other members of the Yamina parliamentary faction and with the leaders of other coalition parties aimed at strengthening the government.

Merav Michaeli, transport minister and leader of the centre-left coalition partner Labour, described Wednesday’s events as a difficult time for the government, but added that she and her party would “do everything possible to that this coalition continues to function. ”

Although the timing of Ms Silman’s resignation came as a surprise, the coalition was fragile and few analysts expected it to last a full four-year term. His majority of one seat still meant that a single defection would be enough to threaten the collapse of the government.

The eight coalition parties shared little in their rapprochement last summer beyond their desire to oust Mr. Netanyahu, who had refused to resign despite the corruption charges against him. This prompted some of his longtime allies to leave his party and form their own right-wing factions.

Initially, most parties did not want to join forces, and did so only because they considered the alternatives — either a fifth election or joining forces with Mr. Netanyahu — even worse.

Despite their differences, the coalition managed to unite on some key issues, including passing the first state budget in more than three years. But they have regularly clashed over the rights and funding of Israel’s Arab minority, the relationship between state and religion, and Israeli policy in the occupied West Bank.

Most groups within the coalition faced intense criticism, and sometimes abuse, from their base for siding with their political opponents and for making compromises that contradicted their political ideals.

Right-wing lawmakers like Ms Silman have faced particularly strong hostility, with protesters picketing her home last summer and bombarding her with offensive text messages.

Upon arriving at her synagogue last June, she found several posters hanging on a wall outside, each with her portrait covered with the slogan that read, “Idit Silman has assembled a government with supporters of terrorism.”

Rawan Sheikh Ahmad contributed reporting from Haifa, Israel, and Gabby Sobelman from Rehovot, Israel.


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