Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s 74-mandate coalition will apparently remain intact, at least on paper, after Labor rebel MK Daniel Ben-Simon was barred from leaving his faction on Tuesday.
Ben-Simon announced with great fanfare on Tuesday afternoon that he was granted the right to break off from the Labor faction by its chairman, Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon, and with the tacit approval of Labor leader Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
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But for one MK to leave, his entire faction must sign a letter authorizing his departure.
Three Labor MKs, including Industry, Trade, and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, announced that they would not sign the letter.
“I respect Daniel Ben-Simon and I have great appreciation for him, but I have not changed my opinion,” Ben- Eliezer said. “The mandate belongs to the Labor Party and not to me or anyone else, so I will not sign and Ben- Simon is aware of my opinion on the matter.”
Barak released a statement denying that he had agreed to let Ben-Simon leave. The Labor leader, who was aware of Ben-Eliezer’s refusal to sign, said he had merely agreed to sign the document if every other Labor MK signed first.
Labor leaders are now expected to renew pressure on Ben-Simon to quit the Knesset and give his mandate to the next name on the Labor list, former Druse MK Shakib Shanan, who is close to Ben-Eliezer. Labor secretary- general Hilik Bar, another Ben-Eliezer confidant, said Ben-Simon’s seat belongs to Labor and that Ben-Simon must quit the Knesset.
Ben-Simon, who realized he had been tricked, vowed to keep his seat in the Knesset and use it to do everything possible to harm Labor until he is allowed to leave the faction.
“From my experience with the party, I have learned that everything is possible,” Ben- Simon said. “This overdose of bad intentions has brought the party to a state of ridicule.
“I expect all the MKs to sign and let me go my own way. If they don’t, I will remind them on a daily basis by voting against everything they support in the parliament and by acting as a hostile hostage. They cannot take my mandate or tell me how to vote. If they tried to trick me, the joke will be on them.”
Ben-Simon said his conscience did not allow him to remain in a coalition he disagrees with on both diplomatic and socioeconomic issues. He said he could no longer wait for Labor to quit the coalition after so many past threats to leave.
Ben-Simon’s fellow Labor rebel MKs Amir Peretz, Eitan Cabel and Ghaleb Majadle released a joint statement saying that they understood Ben- Simon’s desire to split from Labor and that they would not stand in his way.
But other Labor MKs slammed Ben-Simon in closed conversations, calling him lazy and a poor legislator and suggesting that he did not earn his salary as an MK.
Barak defended Labor’s current condition, saying claims that the party has begun to crumble are far from reality.