A key member of Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party said Wednesday she was quitting his coalition government, in a surprise move that leaves him without a parliamentary majority.
Idit Silman’s announcement left Bennett’s coalition, an alliance of parties ranging from the Jewish right and Israeli doves to an Arab Muslim party, with 60 seats – the same as the opposition.
“I tried the path of unity. I worked a lot for this coalition,” Silman, a religious conservative who served as coalition chairperson, said in a statement.
“Sadly, I cannot take part in harming the Jewish identity of Israel,” she added.
On Monday, Silman lashed out at Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, after he instructed hospitals to allow leavened bread products into their facilities during the upcoming Passover holiday, in line with a recent Supreme Court ruling reversing years of a prohibition.
Under Jewish tradition, unleavened bread is not allowed in the public domain during Passover.
“I am ending my membership of the coalition and will try to continue to talk my friends into returning home and forming a right-wing government,” Silman said.
“I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.”
Following the announcement, Silman was embraced by the same right-wing politicians who had relentlessly attacked her since Bennett reneged on election promises and formed his ruling coalition last year with her.
“Idit, you’re proof that what guides you is the concern for the Jewish identity of Israel, the concern for the land of Israel, and I welcome you back home to the national camp,” opposition head and Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu said in a video recording.
“I call on whoever was elected with the votes of the national camp to join Idit and come back home, you’ll be received with all due honour and open arms,” said the right-wing former prime minister.
To form a coalition of his own without new elections, Netanyahu would need the support of at least 61 lawmakers, which he currently does not have.
Bezalel Smotrich of the Religious Zionism party, once a political partner of Bennett, expressed his appreciation to Silman for her “courage to make the difficult move”, and predicted the ruling coalition would not survive the shift.
“This is the beginning of the end of the left-wing, non-Zionist government of Bennett and the Islamist Movement,” he wrote on Twitter.
There was no immediate comment from Bennett, whose Yamina party now holds just five of the parliament’s 120 seats.