A renegade Israeli lawmaker has been officially declared a defector by the Knesset House Committee after a contentious debate that took some 12 hours. Amichai Chikli, who was elected to the Knesset as a member of the right-wing Yamina party led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, will now be barred from running in the next election with any political party currently serving in Israel’s parliament.
The designation of Chikli as a defector has been a long time coming and was done on Monday using an official process laid out in the Basic Law: The Knesset.
Chikli, who first entered politics in 2019, was elected to the Knesset for the first time in March 2021. During negotiations to form a new government, he said he would not sit in a coalition with certain left-wing parties, including the Meretz party, which ultimately joined the government formed by Bennett and Yesh Atid party head Yair Lapid.
Chikli voted against the investiture of the government and then, by Yamina’s count, voted against the party’s position more than 750 times. One of those votes was against the state budget; if the budget had not passed then, under Israeli law, the government would have fallen. Chikli argues that he has been loyal to Yamina’s voters, who, he says, do not approve of Bennett’s coalition, which includes leftist parties and the Islamist United Arab List.
Bennett and his government have put up with Chikli’s antics for nearly a year. But it was not until Yamina lawmaker and party whip Idit Silman announced that she would join forces with the opposition, leaving the Knesset’s 120 members evenly split – 60 in favor of the coalition and 60 supporting the opposition – that talk of branding Chikli a defector first surfaced.
That appears to be, in part, because if three lawmakers who make up at least a third of a party’s sitting MKs break away, they can run with another party sitting in Knesset in the next election. Otherwise, defectors are barred from running in the next election with a party that already sits in the parliament, unless they resign after they are declared defectors. Silman, it appears, could be the next Yamina lawmaker to be booted from the party.
These rules were instituted in a 1991 amendment to the Basic Law: The Knesset, one of several basic laws that together serve as the country’s constitution.
Chikli became the third Israeli lawmaker to be labeled a defector and booted from his party. Former lawmaker Orly Levy-Abekasis was removed in 2017 from the Yisrael Beytenu party, 10 months after she began voting independently to protest the government coalition the party joined; and in 2005, parliamentarian Michael Nudelman resigned from the National Union party in order to support the plan to disengage from the Gaza Strip.
Under the rules governing a lawmaker labeled a defector, he or she remains an “unattached member of Knesset,” and is forbidden to join any other party during that Knesset term. In addition, the lawmaker is prohibited from proposing a no-confidence vote against the government.
Lawmakers who leave their parties continue to receive their salaries and budgets for communicating with constituents, but they are not eligible for the monthly public funding provided to their previous party.
Chikli can appeal the House Committee’s decision to the Jerusalem District Court.
Explainer written by Marcy Oster, republished with permission from The Media Line