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Israel government loses majority as religious lawmaker quits

JERUSALEM

An Israeli lawmaker quit the government’s wafer-thin ruling coalition over a dispute about Passover matza rules in hospitals on Wednesday, throwing the fragile alliance into disarray without a majority in parliament.

Backbencher Idit Silman’s departure raises the possibility of new parliamentary elections less than a year after the government took office. While Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government remains in power, it is now hamstrung in the 120-seat parliament and will likely struggle to function.

Silman, from Bennett’s religious-nationalist Yamina party, had opposed allowing people to bring leavened bread and other foodstuffs into public hospitals — products prohibited according to religious tradition during the Passover holiday, public broadcaster Kan reported. For some devout Jews, the mere presence of such foods in the hospital is not kosher.

Bennett’s coalition of eight political parties ranging from Islamists to hard-line nationalists and dovish liberals — all united solely in their opposition to former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu — now holds 60 seats in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

The Knesset is currently in recess, and it remains unclear if the opposition will now have enough support to hold a no-confidence vote and send Israelis to the polls for the fifth time in just over three years.

Silman, said she “cannot lend a hand to harming the Jewish character of the state of Israel and the people of Israel,” and would work to form a right-wing government, Kan reported.

Israel has held four elections in two years in a protracted political crisis over Netanyahu’s fitness to rule while on trial for corruption. The deadlocked elections were finally broken in June when Bennett and his allies ousted Netanyahu after 12 years in office by cobbling together a coalition of unlikely allies.

Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute thinktank, said that while Silman’s departure didn’t bring down the government, it does bring the country “back to political crisis mode.”

“Bennett’s government loses its majority in parliament and its degree of freedom to maneuver, to pass legislation, to gain majority for its decisions,” Plesner said.

Netanyahu, now opposition leader, congratulated Silman and “welcomed her back home to the nationalist camp.”

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