Who is Chikli? New MK to oppose Bennett-Lapid government

Chikli is potentially doing to Bennett what Religious Zionist party head Bezalel Smotrich did to Netanyahu: deprive him of becoming prime minister by adhering to an ideological position.

Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett (photo credit: REUTERS)
Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett
(photo credit: REUTERS)
“A little confused this morning,” tweeted Yisrael Beytenu MK Eli Avidar, one of the better known of the little-known MKs on Avigdor Liberman’s seven-seat Yisrael Beytenu list.
“Dozens of pushes: Chikli sent a piercing letter. Chikli will oppose a Bennett-Lapid government, Chikli is leading a revolt. Only one thing I don’t understand, who is Chikli?” Avidar snarkily asked.
Avidar was not alone.
Just as President Reuven Rivlin was about to begin consultations on Wednesday regarding whom to empower next with trying to set up a government, news broke that the No. 5 on Yamina’s seven-person list, Amichai Chikli, came out against a Naftali Bennett-Yair Lapid power-sharing coalition government.
Chances are that tens of thousands of people around the country who heard the news thought to themselves: “Amichai who? Who is Amichai Chikli?”
One rather cynical broadcast journalist reporting on Chikli’s leaked letter to Bennett, which explained his opposition to joining a government with the anti-Netanyahu forces, introduced the segment by saying the Yamina backbencher found a way to stand out from the crowd.
But that is quite possibly doing an injustice to the freshman MK, one of 18 new faces in the recently elected Knesset.
Yes, maybe Chikli was looking for a way to distinguish himself from the crowd, and it is likely that his name – as a result of his move on Wednesday – was one of the most widely searched items on Google in Israel on Wednesday.
But, then again, maybe he was not just looking for attention, but actually was taking an ideological stance. Chikli’s Wikipedia page describes him as a former company commander in the Egoz unit and a Zionist educator who established the Tavor Leadership Academy, a well-respected pre-army program. That type of biography dovetails well with someone prone to taking an ideological position.
While Yamina sources were quoted as saying that they knew about Chikli’s position, it was obviously not welcome news for Bennett, who has steadfastly refused since the election to commit to joining only a government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud. And while Chikli did not expressly say whether he would vote against such a government with Lapid, the question now is whether his move will open the sluice gates inside Yamina.
Bennett gambled with his right-wing supporters by sitting on the fence during the coalition negotiations, waiting to see whether Netanyahu could form a government before committing to him, and saying that if Netanyahu could not form a government, he would strive to establish a unity one – anything to stave off a fifth election. Chikli’s move raises the question of whether Bennett’s own foot soldiers are willing to follow him.
Chikli is potentially doing to Bennett what Religious Zionist Party head Bezalel Smotrich did to Netanyahu over the last week: deprive him of becoming prime minister by adhering to an ideological position.
Smotrich would not budge on his refusal to form a government supported from the outside by the Islamist Ra’am (United Arab List) Party, and Chikli is taking an ideological position against his own party head and saying that he does not want to turn his back on pledges the party made to its voters not to coronate Yesh Atid’s Lapid or sitting in a government where Lapid serves as prime minister.
“What do we have in common with the Black Flags?” Chikli wrote in his letter of the movement that has led weekly protests against Netanyahu for months.
Chikli’s move is doing more than adding another hurdle to Bennett’s efforts to set up a government with Lapid; it is also providing a glimpse into difficulties that lay ahead if a “unity” government is established that is composed of parties from across the entire political spectrum: from Meretz and Labor on the Left, to Yamina and New Hope on the Right.
Each of those parties has ideologues the public knows well, such as Yair Golan in Meretz and Ayelet Shaked in Yamina. But there are also those in the parties like Chikli who are currently flying under the radar screen, whom the public does not know about, but who could make life in an anti-Netanyahu unity coalition unworkable.
After Netanyahu failed in his effort over the last month to establish a “full-fledged” right-wing government – as the Likud campaign slogan put it – what is on deck now is a unity government that, like the previous Likud-Blue and White government of Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, will have little ideological glue holding it together.
Once the desire to remove Netanyahu is realized, the cement binding the disparate parties together will weaken. Nevertheless, the coalition will still have to deal with real diplomatic, security, economic and social issues – issues sure to unveil deep ideological differences.
On Wednesday the country got a foretaste of what to expect when this happens: the emergence of a Chikli – someone the public likely has never heard of, but who will say that his or her principles prevent them from going along with certain steps the government might be considering.
With the majority of any future government expected to be slim, each one of these “Chiklis” can wield enormous power, because by their vote the government may rise or fall.
The tremors that Chikli set off with his letter on Wednesday are but a sample of what may be in store if a narrow coalition made up of parties with vastly different ideologies and world outlooks is established.