Those who described Prime Minister Naftali Bennett as sitting on a precarious throne, with only five allies in his own Knesset faction, found out Tuesday morning that the Yamina chairman has been taking steps to repair the situation. Although he cannot legally remove the stubborn MK Amichai Chikli who vowed to honor the campaign promises he was voted in on, torpedo this government, and has been voting with the opposition, Bennett managed to dislodge a different threat.
Shai Maimon, the number 9 candidate on Yamina’s Knesset slate, on Tuesday informed Knesset Speaker Mikey Levy that he was taking his name off the list. Maimon expressed his objection to the new coalition government, mostly because it embraces the Ra’am party “which objects to Zionism, and does not accept the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.”
No one knows at this point why Maimon chose to quit his party’s list rather than make life difficult for his party chairman. But his resignation came at the most opportune time for Bennett. It’s all about the “Norwegian Law.”
The Norwegian Law is intended to allow the resignation of most government ministers and deputy ministers from the Knesset to allow the next candidates on their election lists to enter the Knesset. In situations where coalition governments sport 28 ministers and half a dozen deputy ministers, the Knesset quickly runs out of rank and file MKs to man the various legislative committees – and the missing members come from the coalition. It also means that ministers would be otherwise occupied with running to the Knesset all the time to vote rather than running their ministries and going to cabinet meetings. I would be remiss in not pointing out that this was a law that Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) and most of the current coalition members strongly opposed until they took over the seats of power.
In homogeneous parties like Meretz and Labor, and even Yesh Atid for the most part, all the party chairmen have to do is give the order and the minister or the deputy resign from the Knesset, to be replaced by the next loyal party member on the list.
Not so in a party like Yamina, which has been ripped apart by internal strife over its participation in this government, to the point where Alon Davidi, originally number 3 on the Yamina list, quit the Knesset before even being sworn in, and then fought against this coalition during the negotiations.
Once the government was formed, the first step went fine – the replacement number 3 on the Yamina slate, Minister of Religious Services Matan Kahana, resigned dutifully from the Knesset, to be replaced by number 8 on the slate, Shirley Pinto – also the first deaf MK in the history of the House (Ruderman Family Foundation Applauds First Deaf MK, Yamina’s Shirley Pinto), and of course a Bennett loyalist.
But for Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked to free up her Knesset seat, something had to be done about Maimon in number 9, who chose to quit rather than fight for the values he expressed in his resignation letter.
The next candidate is another Bennett loyalist, an attorney for the Tel Aviv firm of Goldfarb Seligman named Yomtob Kalfon. Once Maimon’s departure is secured, Kalfon should be the next Yamina MK.
Incidentally, MK Chikli, Yamina’s enfant terrible, on Tuesday sounded his first conciliatory note, possibly because without reconciliation with his party boss he would be barred from participating in any Knesset committees like all the rogue MKs of the past, more driftwood than a lawmaker, though still a thorn in his former boss’s side.
Chikli told the Knesset TV Channel: “I don’t think this government will hand over territories, I don’t think the fall of the third Temple is imminent, and I don’t think this government endangers the Jewish identity of the state.”
However, he continued, “I do think that in the end, this move meant turning our back on a huge public, on the vast majority of the national camp.”
So maybe the rebel MK and the new PM can find a way to work together over the next four years, or maybe that’s wishful thinking on my part. After all, Chikli represents the 61st vote that Bennett’s coalition is still lacking (less, if his Islamic coalition partner doesn’t get their members in line). They were able to squeak by a no-confidence situation on Sunday because it only required a majority. But to pass a budget in the fall they’ll need 61 hands.
But Bennett continues to be bombarded by criticism from within and without, mostly from his past comrades, like Religious Zionism chairman Bezalel Smotrich, who on Tuesday issued a huge manifesto explaining why he chose to obliterate Netanyahu’s chances to forge a coalition government that would have been supported by the same Arab party as Bennett’s coalition.
Smotrich does not direct his treatise at Bennett nor Netanyahu. His audience are the Haredi parties whose leaders have been grumbling about his inflexibility that stuck them in the opposition, so far from the budget plate, they can’t even smell it. First, the Haredim argue, Smotrich, with zealous aid from Netanyahu, took away at least one of their Knesset seats in the past election, and then he gave away their government because of some Arab.
Smotrich devotes one out of eight segments (number 5) to Bennett, and his argument is cogent:
“Factually, our agreement to sit with Ra’am would not have led to the formation of a right-wing government,” Smotrich writes. “It would only make it easier for Bennett to form a left-wing government that relies on the supporters of terrorism, as he did in practice, and hang onto our legitimizing [of the Islamist Arab party] to moderate public criticism of his move.”
As he has said many times before, Smotrich asserts that:
“Bennett planned in advance and even before the election his alliance with the left to overthrow Netanyahu and become prime minister at all costs, and he would have found all the excuses in the world not to reach agreements with Netanyahu and join the left. I was familiar with his plans before the election and against this background, we parted ways. His conduct throughout the election campaign and in the two months that followed was one big act of deception and fraud. He had finalized a deal with Lapid and Sa’ar well before the election and would not have entered a right-wing government under Netanyahu.”