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For Silman, It Was Judaism Versus Israeliness

Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav
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Bennett and Silman in 2021.
Bennett and Silman in 2021.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav

Brokenhearted over the First Lebanon War, Menachem Begin resigned as prime minister of Israel, declaring: "I can't take it anymore." Forty years later, Idit Silman is resigning as coalition whip because her government colleague called to uphold a High Court ruling pertaining to bringing hametz into hospitals, telling her "close associates" (journalist Amit Segal): I can't take it anymore. Once again, history repeats itself – first as tragedy, then as farce. Marx was right. One must wonder what Ayman Odeh and Ofer Cassif have to say about all this.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu, in a brilliant move befitting the marketing division of a mattress company, promised Silman – in addition to a guaranteed slot on the Likud election slate – the title of health minister in the next government that he shall form. No word yet on whether he means in a rotation with Orly Levy-Abekasis. This offer is, of course, an out-and-out bribe. Though in politics such things are permissible, even for an individual standing trial for bribery. Someone wakes up for work, sends his kids to school, and suddenly finds out that a criminal defendant is back to posting videos at dawn, puffy eyes and all. It's déjà vu, a recurring nightmare.

But the story here isn’t Silman’s health agenda (removing hametz from the health “basket?”), or the cringeworthy pathos of her invocation of the Holocaust. Best to listen to the real narrative: “I tried unity, as someone who comes from the worlds of the common good, I toiled on behalf of the current coalition. Unfortunately, I cannot lend a hand at harming of the Jewish character of the State of Israel and the people of Israel.” In other words: I gave unity a chance, I believed in a common good, but I cannot go on hurting the Jewish character of the nation and the people.

And what was it that broke her, ostensibly at least? A polite reminder by the minister from Meretz about the High Court ruling and hametz. Not terror attacks, not diplomatic moves, not public transportation on Shabbat, not settlements and outposts and hilltops and annexation. In her book, the red line that could not be crossed was for nonreligious Jews and Arabs to be able to eat a sandwich or pita while hospitalized, working at, or visiting a hospital during Passover. To bring down a government over this requires an exceptional level of looniness, even for the average “haredi leumi,” and so we must try to distill the real meaning of all this.

In the end, it is always Judaism versus Israeliness: what takes precedence over what, and what is the source of authority? For the liberal democrat, there is no question. They are a human being and Israeli citizen before they are Jewish, Christian or Muslim; or at the very least, those identities are equal. For them, a democratic country of laws and institutions is stronger than any faith or religious law. But for Silman and Amichai Chikli, and Ayelet Shaked and Nir Orbach who are liable to join them soon, and of course Arye Dery and Yaakov Litzman and Itamar Ben-Gvir, the order is reversed. With good reason, Netanyahu, who organized this move from the start, hastened to echo this sentiment when this new desertion fell into his lap: "Idit, you have proved that what guides you is concern for Israel's Jewish character.."

The State of Israel was not in danger this week, nor was its Jewish character. The cooperation with the left and the Arabs simply became unbearable for Silman and her ideology. As far as she's concerned, the common good cannot include these two groups, as they are not part of the Jewish identity. Ultimately, she's more similar to Bezalel Smotrich and Moshe Gafni than to Michal Zandberg, not to mention Mansour Abbas.

The most fundamental rift of all, between Israel and Judah, has reared its head once more. The “change government” was a courageous, at times even acrobatic, hope-inspiring attempt to somehow fuse this rift. It will go down as such in history, even if it does not live out its full term – though considering the fact that the opposition to which Silman defected unites Kahanists with Balad and is led by a criminal defendant whose trial is proceeding apace, it's possible the eulogies for this government are premature. Yet, there is no denying the message to secular folks and liberal democrats: in the long run, there is apparently no partner.

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