Israel’s ruling coalition slips into minority position as MK leaves

Israel’s ruling coalition fell into a minority in parliament on Thursday when an Arab lawmaker from a left-wing party resigned, leaving Prime Minister Naftali Bennett with a more tenuous grip on power.

Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi’s defection leaves Bennett in control of 59 of the 120 Knesset seats. In a letter to the prime minister, she cited ideological differences.

The opposition could seek to exploit its walkout by tabling a motion on Wednesday to dissolve the government and organize early elections. In a possible reprieve for Bennett, Zoabi refrained from saying she would vote in favor.

In her letter, Zoabi, a lawmaker from the Meretz party, refers to an escalation of violence at a Jerusalem holy site as well as Israeli police tactics at last week’s funeral of a Palestinian journalist.

“I cannot continue to support the existence of a coalition that is shamefully harassing the society where I come from,” she said in the letter released to Israeli media.

She acknowledged that voting to dissolve the government might not be in the interest of the Arab public, which makes up about 21 percent of Israel’s population.

“I’m under no illusions. I know this coalition is perhaps the most sensible option possible, including for the Arab public,” she told Channel 12 TV. “I’m not going to detonate it automatically.”

Bennett leads an array of left, right, centrist and Arab parties that were sworn in last year, ending Benjamin Netanyahu’s record 12-year tenure as prime minister.

It lost its slim majority last month when an MP from Bennett’s right-wing party quit the coalition. The government is now more vulnerable and can seek outside support to defend against votes of no confidence in parliament.