Israeli Minister Resigns in Bid to Strengthen Bennett's Coalition

Matan Kahana's return to the Knesset blocks the possibility that another Yamina lawmaker will defect to the opposition

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Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana, April 2021.
Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana, April 2021.Credit: Reuben Castro

Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana has resigned and will return to serve as a lawmaker – replacing a shaky party colleague – in a bid to keep Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's government from falling.

Kahana, a member of Bennett's Yamina party, will return to the Knesset on Sunday, replacing Yomtob Kalfon.

Kahana said in a statement Friday that he was going back to the Knesset "to help strengthen the coalition," with Bennett's aides adding that the former minister understood the need for the resignation, which goes into effect immediately.

Bennett himself added that Kahana's "urgent" decision came expressly amid "fears that another MK" would cross over.

About three months ago, Bennett's associates suspected that Kalfon might leave the eight-party coalition. They looked into whether Kalfon had met with opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu or anyone on his behalf, but found no evidence.

A departure by Kalfon would have further shrunk Bennett's party, which emerged from last year's election with only seven seats. Kalfon is under tremendous pressure from his community, right-wing French immigrants, sources have told Haaretz.

Last week, associates of Bennett said there was an 80 percent chance that the government would only last another month or so.

In April, coalition whip Idit Silman abruptly resigned from the coalition, leaving it with 60 lawmakers in the 120-seat Knesset. In a resignation letter to Bennett later, Silman said that some coalition partners were "unwilling to make compromises."

Likud's Yariv Levin, however, said Friday that Kahana's resignation reflected "the disintegration of the Yamina party," adding that "the government is experiencing a mass abandonment."

Likud added in a statement: "Bennett is trying to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. Everyone elected by right-wing voters must be loyal to their constituents and immediately leave the sinking ship of the government of fraud and weakness."

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