Bennett Scores Victory as Renegade Party Member Declared Defector

Yamina lawmaker Amichai Chikli voted against his party's position 754 times since the formation of the coalition ■ The move to declare him a defector aims to deter others from abandoning Bennett's shrinking Knesset faction

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Yamina MK Amichai Chikli at the Knesset hearing on Monday.
Yamina MK Amichai Chikli at the Knesset hearing on Monday.Credit: Emil Salman

A Knesset committee approved on Monday Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's request to declare his Yamina party colleague Amichai Chikli as a defector, blocking him from joining another existing party in the next election and sending a strong warning to other potential deserters from Bennett's fraying coalition.

The seven members of the panel approved the move with no objections. The fiery Knesset hearing lasted over 10 hours.

In his request, Bennett said that before and after the formation of the current coalition government, Chikli had chosen to divorce himself from the Yamina faction “and to act in total opposition to its positions while actively and deliberately taking steps to defeat the faction, the coalition and the Israeli government.”

MK Amichai Chikli at the High Court of Justice on SundayCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg

If a party member is deemed a defector, the law bars them from linking up with an existing Knesset party in the next election. Monday’s committee vote was an effort by Yamina to prevent any others among its shrinking Knesset faction to defect.

Idit Silman, who resigned from the Yamina faction earlier this month, was also in attendance. Silman, whose abrupt resignation from the coalition deprived them of their slim majority, has long had ideological clashes with members of the coalition's left-wing parties.

During the hearing, Chikli said that Bennett and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked had "delivered a fatal blow to democracy," adding that "it is necessary to oppose those who have turned their backs on those who voted for them because of lust for power, respect and authority."

"Politics is also a pragmatic field which requires compromise and it isn't possible to always fulfill precisely everything that the voter was promised. But a nightmare such as this – in which all the most important and central promises which comprise the Yamina party's ideological agenda are completely broken – is an unprecedented event," he said.

Yamina’s argument for considering Chikli a defector was presented to the committee by Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana, who is not a member of the committee – or of the Knesset – and therefore has no right to vote on the measure.

Kahana gave the opening arguments for declaring Chikli a defector, opining that Chikli "betrayed" his students at his pre-military academy and his comrades in the army by preferring the far-right over a broad coalition.

According to Kahana, Chikli voted against his party's position 754 times, "including in the fateful vote on the formation of the government."

The hearing's procedures were held up an hour after its start time due to nonstop interruptions by members of Likud and the Otzma Yehudit party, who claimed that the meeting's chairman MK Eitan Ginzburg was not turning on their microphones.

Several Knesset members were ejected for disruption, including Likud lawmakers Miri Regev and Orli Levi-Abekasis and far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir.

House Committee chairman Nir Orbach did not attend the meeting due to the death of his mother. MK Walid Taha, of the United Arab List, was also absent from the committee session as his party is currently boycotting Knesset sessions. It temporarily suspended itself from the governing coalition and the Knesset following the recent clashes on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

Lawmaker Ahmad Tibi, from the Joint List and one of two representatives from the opposition on the panel, decided to abstain from the vote, saying that he "doesn't want to intervene with other parties' internal affairs."

"[Chikli's issue] is the right-wing versus the right-wing," he added. "I wish all sides the best of luck, even though I am a man of peace."

In Bennett’s letter, he accused Chikli of voting against the formation of the governing coalition and said he has been consistently absent from Knesset session and votes, but was present for the three days of debate on the state budget and voted against the coalition on all 651 of the budget votes.

On Sunday, after a panel of High Court justices informed Chikli that it was premature, Chikli withdrew a High Court petition seeking to defer the House Committee vote by 30 days and to require that Bennett attend the committee session. Chikli told Haaretz on Sunday that he did not expect to get a fair hearing from the Knesset committee.

“The [course of] the proceedings is expected, and its purpose is a desperate attempt to preserve the coalition, but it lacks any foundation and is contrary to the logic behind the law” regarding defectors from a faction, he said. Chikli has the right to appeal the House Committee’s decision to the district court if he is declared a defector.

According to the Knesset rules, members of a Knesset faction who wish to split off from it must recruit a third of the faction’s Knesset members. If they don’t but still defect, they are ineligible to run with any existing party in the following Knesset election.

About two and a half weeks ago, a day after Silman resigned from Yamina, another party lawmaker, Abir Kara, proposed that he and Silman and Orbach split off and form a new faction. Now that Chikli was determined a defector, Silman and Kara would need another Yamina Knesset member to carry out such a split.

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