Likud and Yesh Atid now have an equal number of seats in the Knesset, which could bring instability to the coalition, after Carmel Shama-Hacohen ceased to be an MK on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, the cabinet approved Shama-Hacohen’s appointment as ambassador to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), UNESCO and the Council of Europe.
The personal appointment by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman means that Shama- Hacohen, a one-term Likud lawmaker who reentered the 19th Knesset when Reuven Rivlin was elected president in June, stopped being an MK on Wednesday and Alex Miller of Yisrael Beytenu, who served in the 17th and 18th Knessets, automatically became a legislator.
The reason a Yisrael Beytenu MK is replacing a Likud one is because the two parties ran on a joint list for the current Knesset, and the next person – after Shama – on the joint list slated to become a member of the Knesset is Miller, who is in Yisrael Beytenu.
After Liberman dismantled the joint Likud-Yisrael Beytenu faction a month ago and completed the process of appointing Shama-Hacohen as ambassador, which he began several months earlier than that, the Likud faction now has 19 MKs, the same as Yesh Atid. Yisrael Beytenu now has 12 legislators.
This gives Finance Minister Yair Lapid significant leverage within the coalition to demand his party’s policies be put into place, and could destabilize the coalition, especially ahead of budget talks that are set to begin in the Knesset in October, when its winter session begins.
Meanwhile, Shama-Hacohen is preparing for the new challenges he will face when his three-to-four-year ambassadorship in Paris begins at the end of August.
“The new job is a different world for me – of diplomacy and economic policy,” the former Knesset Economics Committee chairman said.
Shama-Hacohen pointed out that Israel will likely be on the defensive in UNESCO in the coming months after Operation Defensive Edge, but that Israel is at an advantage in the OECD because of its healthy economy.
The soon-to-be-ambassador also said he would make sure to be involved in Jewish issues, such as attempts to limit ritual circumcision and shechita (kosher slaughter) – attempts that come up in the Council of Europe, where Israel is an observer.
“I hope to learn the issues thoroughly and bring achievements to Israel,” he stated.
Shama-Hacohen posited that, while he is undergoing intensive instruction from the Foreign Ministry, he is sure his experience in the Knesset will help him as an ambassador.
“Coming from politics, I bring talents that will help me.
When I’m in the hallways [of international organizations], I will be able to recognize the interests at play, present my stance and convince people to get on my side to back a goal or idea. I learned that from parliamentary and political activities,” he explained.
The former Likud MK took several months to decide whether to accept the position, because of the difficulties his four children – who range from ages four to 18 – would have adjusting to life in Paris.
“The kids are excited, but I’m sure it’ll be hard at first to leave their friends, learn a new language and enter a new environment,” Shama-Hacohen said. “They’ll learn a lot. It’ll be very educational. I think they’ll come back [to Israel] with advantages.”
Miller was less verbose when it came to his new-old job as an MK.
“I feel great. Basically, everything is normal. I’m going back to work in the Knesset,” he said.
Miller automatically became an MK Wednesday as Shama- Hacohen left the position, but he will be sworn in next time there is a plenum meeting.
Officially, the Knesset is in recess, so there is not one until October, but usually there are several emergency plenum meetings during the recess.