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JERUSALEM (AP) — An Israeli lawmaker quit the government’s wafer-thin ruling coalition Wednesday after infighting over bread in hospitals on the Jewish holiday of Passover, throwing the fragile alliance into disarray without a majority in parliament.
Backbencher Idit Silman’s departure raises the possibility of new parliamentary elections less than a year after the government took office. While Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government remains in power, it is now hamstrung in the 120-seat parliament and will likely struggle to function.
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Silman, who served as coalition whip from Bennett’s religious-nationalist Yamina party, had opposed allowing people to bring leavened bread and other foodstuffs into public hospitals — products prohibited according to religious tradition during the Passover holiday, public broadcaster Kan reported. For some devout Jews, the mere presence of such foods in the hospital is not kosher, but the country’s Supreme Court ruled in 2021 that hospitals could not bar people from doing so.
Bennett’s coalition of eight political parties ranging from Islamists to hard-line nationalists and dovish liberals — all united solely in their opposition to former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu — now holds 60 seats in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.
But some members of Bennett’s party have been uncomfortable with the Yamina’s union with Islamist and liberal parties since the government’s inception in June. One party member broke ranks rather than be part of it.
Earlier in the week Silman feuded with Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, head of the dovish and secular Meretz Party, over his determination that hospitals uphold the law and not bar people from bringing bread in during Passover.
Silman said in a letter to the prime minister on Wednesday that “key values in my worldview are inconsistent with current reality” and that she could no longer stand to see those unspecified values harmed as a member of the coalition.
She urged the prime minister “to acknowledge the truth: we tried. The time has come to think of a new course. To try to form a nationalist, Jewish, Zionist government.”
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.
To topple the government, opposition lawmakers would need to secure 61 votes in favor of dissolving parliament, or as many in favor of the formation of an alternate governing coalition. Netanyahu and other opposition politicians called on other members of Bennett’s party to follow Silman’s suit 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.”
Israel has held four elections in two years in a protracted political crisis over Netanyahu’s fitness to rule while on trial for corruption. The deadlocked elections were finally broken in June when Bennett and his allies ousted Netanyahu after 12 years in office by cobbling together a coalition of unlikely allies.
Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute thinktank, said that while Silman’s departure didn’t bring down the government, it does bring the country “back to political crisis mode.”
“Bennett’s government loses its majority in parliament and its degree of freedom to maneuver, to pass legislation, to gain majority for its decisions,” Plesner said.
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