By Erin Viner
The defection by Member of Knesset (MK) Zoabi leaves the government of Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett with just 59 of the 120 parliamentary seats, raising the opposition a majority of 61.
Bennett leads a diverse alliance of right-wing, centrist, of left-wing and Arab factions that took office in June last year, ending Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s record 12 years as prime minister.
Zoabi’s sudden move took the opposition, as well as her fellow coalition and party colleagues by surprise without advance notice.
Urging his party’s rebel MK to “continue to work together from within the coalition” in a message posted on Twitter, Israeli Regional Cooperation Minister Issawi Freij, a Muslim Israeli-Arab, wrote, “It is our duty to the Arab society. We have to remember that the alternative is a government run by Benjamin Netanyahu, [leader of the far-right Otzma Yehudit faction] Itamar Ben Gvir, and [far-right leader of the Religious Zionist Party] Bezalel Smotrich.”
Foreign Minister Lapid and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, leader of the Meretz faction, announced their intentions to persuade Zoabi to reverse her decision and remain in the government.
“Our coalition is important, and we are working to keep it together,” Horowitz said, stressing that its loss of power would represent “a prize for Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir and [be] very damaging to the entire society – both Jews and Arabs.”
The current government suffered a previous stunning loss in April when Coalition Whip Idit Silman, a lawmaker from Bennett’s own right-wing Yamina party, also quit the coalition on polar-opposite ‘ideological grounds’ from Zoabi – proclaiming she acted to preserve “the Jewish identity of the State of Israel.”
Silman’s withdrawal had left the Premier and his political partner Foreign Minister and Alternate Premier Yair Lapid in control of just 61 of the Knesset’s 120 seats.
As Bennett increasingly loses his precarious grip on power, the Netanyahu-led opposition will likely seek to exploit her walkout by calling another vote of no confidence in the government next Wednesday.
The government would fall if the move is backed by Silman and Zoabi – forcing Israel’s fifth national election in three years to be held next autumn.
Boasting that his party would soon return to lead the country, Likud Chairman Yariv Levin declared, “The Bennett-Lapid government that failed and lost its way – now also lost its majority in the Knesset – and no longer has the right to exist.”
MK Zoabi, however, stopped short of saying she would support the dissolution of the government.
Acknowledging that bringing down the ruling government may not be in the interest of the Arab public who make up about 21% of the Israeli population, she told Channel 12 television, “I’m not under any illusions. I know that this coalition may be the sanest possible option – including for the Arab public,” adding, “I will vote according to my conscience. We will see what happens. I won’t automatically blow up the coalition.”