Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s ministers and deputy ministers offered excuses and mixed metaphors for remaining in his government Wednesday despite their repeated promises to leave over the outpost bill that failed to pass.
Even after Netanyahu threatened to fire any of them who would vote for the bill, Science and Technology Minister Daniel Herschkowitz (Habayit Hayehudi), Public Diplomacy Minister Yuli Edelstein (Likud), and Likud Deputy Ministers Ayoub Kara, Gila Gamliel and Leah Ness had all said they would risk getting fired. But when their names were called, they all were absent from the plenum.
Herschkowitz said the battle for the bill had already been lost. He said settler leaders had pleaded with him to stay and fight on their behalf from inside the government.
“I decided not to dive in to an empty pool,” he said.
“Leaders are tested in moments when they have to think with their heads even when their stomachs are turning over. We will not play into Peace Now’s hands. We will continue the struggle for settlements from where the decisions are made. There won’t be a more right-wing government than this one.”
Kara said that after Herschkowitz and Edelstein absented themselves from the vote, their associates begged him not to show them up by being the only one who would go in the plenum and get fired.
“I was the last one left,” he said. “Why did I have to be the only one who doesn’t move at the last second and gets hit by the train?” In a statement delivered at the Prime Minister’s Office, Netanyahu thanked Edelstein and Herschowitz for “displaying responsibility at a difficult time.” He expressed gratitude to Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, who started a chain of ministers backing off from supporting the bill Wednesday morning.
But Netanyahu’s coalition may still face a threat. Habayit Hayehudi MK Zevulun Orlev, who initiated the bill, said he would recommend that his faction leave the government over its opposition to the bill.
Because there are no institutions in Habayit Hayehudi, decisions are made by majority rule in the three-MK faction.
With Herschowitz and Orlev on opposite sides, the decision would be made by MK Uri Orbach, but he is in the hospital suffering from a severe illness.
Another possible change in the coalition is the man who heads it. Coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin angered Netanyahu by voting for the bill. Channel 2 reported that Netanyahu was considering replacing him with MK Carmel Shama-Hacohen, who voted against it.
Such a change would require a secret-ballot vote in the Likud faction. The report could not be confirmed.
“There are times when even if you know a bill won’t pass, you have to act according to your conscience and vote for it so you will be able to go to people and say you did everything possible for them,” Elkin said.