Survival is trumping substance for Bennett - analysis

From now on, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will have to put his own political survival over substance and sentiment.

 Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the Knesset plenum, May 11, 2022.  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the Knesset plenum, May 11, 2022.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Yomtob Kalfon of Yamina was about to change relations between Israel and Diaspora Jewry forever in Sunday’s meeting of the Ministerial Committee on Legislation.

Kalfon prepared a bill that would have enabled Diaspora Jews who are eligible to make aliyah under the Law of Return to automatically obtain a long-term visa and an official Diaspora Jewry card to help them bypass bureaucracy and enter Israel, even during a pandemic. Yamina official Jeremy Saltan received endorsements from seven relevant government ministries to help fast track the bill’s passage into law and implementation.

But when the committee met, the ministers decided not to vote on the bill, because Kalfon would cease to be an MK later that day. The bill was stalled, and its future is now uncertain.

The landmark legislation was just one victim of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s decision to tighten the ranks of his Yamina Party in an effort to remain prime minister as long as he can.

Bennett pushed his closest loyalist, Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana, to quit the cabinet temporarily and return to the Knesset so he could have a parliamentary arm he could rely on. Kalfon, who conditionally entered the Knesset via the Norwegian Law, paid the price and lost his job.

 Knesset member Yomtob Chai Kalfon speaks at the Plenum Hall at the Knesset, on Noam Revkin Fenton.  (credit: NOAM REVKIN/FLASH90) Knesset member Yomtob Chai Kalfon speaks at the Plenum Hall at the Knesset, on Noam Revkin Fenton. (credit: NOAM REVKIN/FLASH90)

More changes are expected, as Bennett pushes to save his political career. He is expected to face criticism for the move at Monday’s Yamina faction meeting, which Kalfon intends to attend. It remains to be seen whether criticism will come from Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, who opposed the decision but has not said so publicly or in private meetings that could be leaked.

Shaked is refusing to follow the lead of Kahana and return to the Knesset at the expense of MK Shirly Pinto. Besides enabling Kahana to be his eyes and ears in the Knesset, Bennett’s decision was intended to deter Pinto, who repeatedly threatened to defect to the opposition if she did not receive the chairmanship of the Knesset Health Committee, replacing former coalition chairwoman Idit Silman.

Bennett has stressed both publicly and privately that the move was not intended to harm Kalfon, who is an unfortunate casualty. He even considered trying to appoint MK Nir Orbach as a minister and have him quit the Knesset so Kalfon could come back.

Yamina officials vigorously denied a report that Ra’am demanded that Kalfon be fired because he bragged about going up to the Temple Mount on Independence Day. Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted a report that Ra’am made the demand on an Arabic radio station, whose news editor said no such thing was said on his station.

Kalfon’s visit to the Temple Mount was coordinated in advance with Bennett. Besides Kahana, Kalfon is the only Yamina MK who would parrot the official lines written by Bennett’s advisers in radio interviews.

That loyalty did not end up paying off for Kalfon. But Yamina officials said that the prime minister had no choice.

From now on, Bennett will be putting his own political survival over substance and sentiment, even if it means losing a quality MK and causing potentially historic legislation to have to wait.