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Bread throws Israel back into parliamentary chaos

A dispute over leavening agents in Passover has lost Naftali Bennett his slim governing majority in the Knesset.

By Emily Tamkin

WASHINGTON DC – The Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett could lose his government over a battle about bread.

During Passover, religiously observant Jews abstain from eating hametz, or foods with leavening agents. Within Israel, this is a matter of dispute: many secular Jews believe this should be left up to individual households, while more religious Jews want hametz banned from public spaces. In 2020, the High Court ruled that bans on hametz in hospitals was illegal. This year, the health minister, Nitzan Horowitz, instructed hospitals to follow the court order. This, in turn, prompted Idit Silman, of Bennett’s own Yamina party, to quit the coalition. This has cost Bennett his majority.

This is a fight over the nature of the state of Israel, and of Judaism and Jewishness within it. But the immediate issue is what happens to the government. The former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Silman “home”, and tried to signal that this was the beginning of the end for Bennett. There may be a new government without elections – if Netanyahu’s Likud party can cobble together 61 seats.

Remember, Israelis went to the polls four times between 2019 and 2021 before a governing coalition was finally agreed just over a year ago. Bennett may yet find another member of the Knesset to join his coalition. Or there may be new elections. The coalition has until the spring of next year, when a new budget is due. But the facade of stability in Israeli politics is once again cracked.

Meanwhile, two people were killed and several injured by a gunman in Tel Aviv on 7 April. It was the fourth such attack in just two weeks. As Alona Ferber wrote last week, the attacks show, among other things, that divisions between Arabs and Jews, Palestinians and Israelis will not be healed by normalising relations with Israel’s neighbours. And they will remain an issue regardless of whether Bennett is able to salvage his government.

[See also: Attacks in Israel show peace with its neighbours is not enough]

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