Analysis |

Israel’s Political Crisis: Bennett Ignored All Warning Signs

Coalition whip Idit Silmans' defection took Bennett by surprise, leaving him with no majority and an uncertain political future

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
Bennett failed to assess the ongoing situation.
Bennett failed to assess the ongoing situation.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

If Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had chosen his associates in the high-tech companies he managed according to the same criteria he used to select his political partners, he would have gone bankrupt a long time ago. His list of poor political choices, starting with his appointment of journalist Yinon Magal and onwards, is as long as the knife with which he was stabbed by coalition whip Idit Silman.

Let’s say he couldn’t have predicted the previous flop involving lawmaker Amichai Chikli. After all, what did he know of this pre-military academy guy Ayelet Shaked dragged in?

However, Silman was someone he knew very well. She jumped off former Jewish Home Party leader Rafi Peretz's sinking ship and onto Bennett's ship just before the finalization of the Knesset candidate roster. She arrived wearing a badge of treachery and disloyalty, and others warned Bennett at the time.

Last week, the alarms began to sound. "Pay attention to Silman. Likud has taken her on as their project," Bennett was told by Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar repeatedly, and Sa'ar was not alone. Information on the matter was given to other senior officials in Knesset - but nothing came of it.

Bennett failed to assess the ongoing situation. Although he did have a chance to publically demonstrate his support for Silman at a press conference on Tuesday – instead, he chose to play UN peacemaker and to hurl barbed remarks at Silman and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz about chametz being permitted into hospitals during Passover.

A right-wing rally for a Benjamin Netanyahu-led government, Jerusalem, Wednesday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu would have brought his wife Sara to Silman's house and used all his familiar tricks on her. Bennett, on the other hand, was dismissive and disdainful – claiming all would be well as he chatted with Indian leader Narendra Modi.

On Wednesday afternoon, after a long and sweat-drenched round of discussions and meetings with what remains of his caucus, Bennett issued a statement that the "bleeding has stopped," implying that no defections were imminent. That was, of course, until later that evening when Silman resigned.

The Knesset’s spring break ends on May 9. Until then, the government won't fall, nor will the Knesset be dissolved. It’s not clear whether this would have happened during the Knesset's winter session. The government can continue to survive with only 60 of the 120 lawmakers supporting it – but only if one or two members of the Joint List (Ahmad Tibi and Osama Saadi are the first ones to come to mind) are willing to provide tactical and humanitarian support from time to time.

There can't be an alternative government with Benjamin Netanyahu as its leader. Some might believe that if he were to step aside and let an Ultra-Orthodox candidate, such as lawmaker Moshe Gafni, run the show – the Joint List would vote in favor of a no-confidence motion (though another defector from Yamina would be required for that).

In order for this hypothetical government to materialize, two new senior cabinet members – far right lawmakers Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir - would have to join. Yet so would the Joint List, an Arab majority party: and no matter their hatred for current coalition member the United Arab List, they would never allow these two racists to be crowned as ministers.

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