Israeli government loses majority as backbencher leaves ruling coalition

Politician Idit Silman is opposed to the distribution of leavened bread during the Passover Jewish religious holiday

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's alliance, which now has 60 seats out of 120 seats in the Knesset, could struggle to function. EPA

Israel’s coalition government has lost its narrow majority in parliament after a politician left the ruling alliance.

Idit Silman was part of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s religious-nationalist Yamina party, a key part of an eight-party coalition.

The MP cited religious reasons for leaving the formation.

The complex alliance of left-wing, liberal, Islamist and right-wing nationalist parties includes Foreign Affairs Minister Yair Lapid’s secular liberal Yesh Atid party, Defence Minister Benny Gantz's centre-right Kahol Lavan party and Mansour Abbas’s United Arab List, among others.

The alliance, which now has 60 seats out of 120 seats in the Knesset, could struggle to function.

Ms Silman said she “cannot lend a hand to harming the Jewish character of the state of Israel and the people of Israel,” and would work to form a right-wing government, Kan reported.

Ms Silman said she was opposed to Health Minister Nitzan Horwitz's decision to allow the distribution of leavened bread and other foodstuffs in public hospitals, after a Supreme Court ruling on the matter.

She believed this was in breach of religious tradition during the Passover holiday, public broadcaster Kan reported.

Despite the differences among the coalition, it has managed to pass a budget, navigate the coronavirus pandemic and strengthen relations with both the Biden administration and Israel’s Arab allies. Although Mr Bennett has ruled out peace talks with the Palestinians, he has tried to take steps to improve living conditions in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and contain tensions following a series of Palestinian attacks that killed 11 Israelis.

But some members of Mr Bennett’s Yamina party, which promotes a religious, nationalist agenda, have been uncomfortable with the union with Islamist and liberal parties since the government’s inception in June. One party member broke ranks rather than be part of it. Silman followed suit on Wednesday.

The Knesset is currently in recess and it remains unclear if the opposition will now have enough support to hold a no-confidence vote and send Israelis to the polls for the fifth time in just over three years.

Israel held four elections in two years in a protracted political crisis over former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's fitness to rule while on trial for corruption.

The deadlocked elections were finally broken in June when Mr Bennett and his allies ousted Mr Netanyahu after 12 years in office by cobbling together a coalition of unlikely allies.

Mr Netanyahu, now opposition leader, congratulated Ms Silman and “welcomed her back home to the nationalist camp.”

Mr Netanyahu has been working to unravel the coalition by trying to lure members of Mr Bennett’s party. Mr Netanyahu and other opposition politicians called on other members to follow Ms Silman in order to achieve that aim.

“To friends still sitting in this coalition, I say: come home,” Netanyahu said. “Join Idit Silman, join us, and together we will return Israel to the track of success, achievement, security and peace.”

Updated: April 06, 2022, 2:57 PM