Matza maneuvers and Israel's crumbling coalition - opinion

MK Idit Silman resigned from the government, leaving four different scenarios for how it may turn out.

 MK Idit Silman attends a plenum session for the 73rd establishment of the Knesset,  in the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, January 17, 2022. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
MK Idit Silman attends a plenum session for the 73rd establishment of the Knesset, in the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, January 17, 2022.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Israel’s national camp celebrated the resignation of Coalition Chair (majority whip) Idit Silman on Wednesday, and with good reason. The Yamina Party MK’s move not only robbed the government of its razor-thin majority in the Knesset. It also paved the way for additional defectors to follow suit.

The immediate upshot of what is being dubbed as a political earthquake is not yet clear. There are four possible scenarios, among them a reshuffling of the existing parliamentary constellation and another election.

But one thing is certain. The depiction of the impetus behind the move by Silman, who also serves as chairwoman of the Knesset Health Committee, is purposely misleading.

Ostensibly, she couldn’t take it anymore due to a debate with Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz over the entry of leavened goods into hospitals during the week of Passover. In fact, the current untenable union of contradictory ideologies goes far beyond points of religious ritual – at least where the public is concerned.

Silman’s particular case is different matter. She has been under serious and unpleasant pressure from her base ever since she allowed Bennett to woo her, with a cushy post, into joining him in the maneuver that required handing the mandates he received from his voters to the Left. Even her own husband came to regret backing her decision to accept the fantasy of a tenable partnership with post – and anti-Zionists – all in order to abet Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in his con.

 Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and MK Idit Silman seen in better days for them at a Knesset plenum session last July.  (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and MK Idit Silman seen in better days for them at a Knesset plenum session last July. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

To get back at former supporters hurling epithets at her everywhere she went, she claimed to have been physically assaulted at a gas station by angry right-wingers. Her tale of woe backfired, however, as she kept altering the details of the alleged attack, which lacked both eyewitnesses and CCTV evidence.

Nor would she have jumped ship if Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu hadn’t promised her both the number 10 slot on the Likud list, guaranteeing her a seat in the next Knesset and the health portfolio, in place of her nemesis Horowitz.

In other words, the opportunism on her part that enabled the forming of the government a year ago is now catalyzing its demise. Upholding the ban on patients and their visitors bringing bread into medical facilities during Passover really has nothing to do with it. And she would have done well not to have argued that “people in the Holocaust fasted on Passover so as not to eat hametz [unleavened products], and a minister in the state of Israel within a coalition like ours unfortunately intends to introduce [it].” Jews starved by the Nazis didn’t have that luxury.

This is not to say that Silman was wrong for bolting, or that upholding Jewish tradition in the public sphere is unimportant to Israelis. Yet, with the uptick in deadly terrorism and out-of-control cost of living – alongside mass concern for atrocities committed in Ukraine – the hametz status quo wasn’t on anybody’s mind until Horowitz made a big issue of it.

UNWITTINGLY, HIS doing so gave Silman, an Orthodox Jew, a virtuous cause on which to pin her exit. Her resignation letter, reportedly formulated by Religious Zionism Party leader MK Bezalel Smotrich, thankfully doesn’t mention hametz-gate. On the other hand, it doesn’t refer to any other specific policy either.

“Some of our partners, who hold central positions in the coalition… are not willing to compromise on issues that are at the core of the worldview of the voters who put us in the Knesset,” she wrote. “Key values of my own do not jibe with the current reality. I am attuned to the protestations of those whose support we won… and to the pain of those who didn’t vote for us but who belong to the national camp. I can no longer bear the injury to [these] values… I call on you and the rest of my colleagues to admit the truth… The time has come to recalculate our route. To try to forge a nationalist, Jewish, Zionist government [and implement] the values on the basis of which we were elected and that represent most of the nation.”

The omission of the word religious in the list adjectives defining the kind of coalition she wants to see is not accidental. Contrary to what the local Left constantly contends and critics abroad believe, Israel is simultaneously proud of its Judaism and pluralistic. It is both the nation-state of the Jewish people and a vibrant mosaic made up of an ethnically diverse population.

Those who accuse it of apartheid and a slew of additional crimes might want to ask themselves why it’s such a magnet for tourists, refugees and foreign workers, including Palestinians. The same advice applies to the likes of Deputy Economy Minister Yair Golan, who bemoaned Silman’s “disastrous choice to strengthen the camp of the corrupt, extremist and ultra-Orthodox nationalists.”

This is the guy who in January called Jews demonstrating against plans to demolish the Homesh Yeshiva in northern Samaria and pleading with the government to rebuild the settlement destroyed there after the 2005 Gaza withdrawal “sub-humans.”

He then sneered about settlers “shouting [that plans to evacuate them are] a ‘shame’ and a ‘disgrace,’ yet failing to mention that they’ve been carrying out a pogrom [against Palestinians]. We, the Jewish people, who have suffered from pogroms throughout history, are now conducting pogroms against others.”

Such imagery wasn’t new for Golan. During his tenure as deputy chief of IDF staff, he used the occasion of Holocaust Remembrance Day to express fear that signs of the “revolting processes that occurred in Europe [during World War II]… are here among us [Israelis] today in 2016.”

Examples of this attitude abound in the current government. Such a dim view of the majority of the public has no place in the coalition ruling it.

It should be unnecessary to add a caveat about Israel’s flaws, as though anywhere else on earth is perfect or even necessarily preferable. Still, it’s worth noting in the context of the disintegrating coalition that the worst thing about the Jewish state – other than its dangerously liberal, interventionist Supreme Court – is its electoral system.

After all, it is the latter that furnished Bennett and the rest of the “anybody but Bibi” crowd with the legal means to prevent Likud – the largest single party whose leader consistently polls above his rivals – from taking its rightful place at the helm. In addition, according to the latest surveys, if elections were held today, the impasse that forced four consecutive rounds would remain pretty much intact.

Netanyahu, thus, is working tirelessly to reassemble the puzzle pieces. His efforts, naturally, are bringing to the fore a common mantra recited by his detractors: that if only he would bow out and step down, a nationalist government could be established with no difficulty. These paragons of principle need to be reminded that Netanyahu won the Likud primary by a landslide, and the party with him at its head garnered the most votes.

It is hard to conceive of any politician quitting under such circumstances. Indeed, it’s the less popular ones who should be practicing what they preach and break the stalemate. Despite her matza machinations, Silman deserves credit for providing the possibility.