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The political neophyte whipping a Knesset cacophony into coalition harmony

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Idit Silman says she wasn’t looking to become the coalition’s whip.

When the former health services executive joined the 24th Knesset earlier this year, she aspired to head the Knesset Health Committee, an important but fairly low profile position, even with the boost it has gotten during the pandemic.

Instead, Silman was handed the job of coalition chair, an important and complex position usually reserved for veteran MKs who know how to wheel and deal their way through the halls of power. The position is a tough job in any Knesset, and a near-Sisyphean role in the current ruling coalition, a fickle alliance of eight parties from across the political spectrum called the most diverse government in the state’s history.

With almost no legislative experience from her previous short stints in the legislature, Silman was tasked with making sure the coalition could push ahead with its agenda, shepherding and negotiating bills through committee and to eventual passage, whipping coalition members into staying in line, fighting off opposition attempts to sink bills, and making sure the whole process runs smooth as a whistle.

“Everyone wants to show their constituencies that they are working for them,” she told The Times of Israel recently. But against all odds, she appears to be making the unruly coalition of competing interests work.

“We managed to approve the Jerusalem flag march, we resolved the problem of evacuating settlers from Eviatar,” she said. “We are in continuous dialogue with everyone — the left wingers from Meretz and Labor, and the right wingers from New Hope — so that all can have wins to show their voters.”

Silman is only the second woman ever to be given the job, after Sarah Doron, who served as whip for Likud prime minister Yitzhak Shamir in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

And Silman is the first coalition chair to come from a faction as small as Yamina — every other whip has come from a party with at least 26 MKs, and usually have 30 or more — reflecting the unprecedentedly outsized role the seven-member party and its leader, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, have been given in the power-sharing government.

Both her gender and her lack of experience have made her into a punching bag for the opposition, but Silman is not afraid to punch back and maintains that her first two months in office saw many more successes than failures.

As proof, she points to a vote — held just before the Knesset went into recess earlier this month — in which MKs held a secret ballot to choose representatives for the Judicial Selection Committee.

Despite leading the opposition and remaining a political force after some 12 years in power, Likud failed to place a single party member on the panel.

She referred to the vote as her “biggest test,” since the secret ballot meant MKs could not be held accountable for breaking ranks, taking the threat of reprisals, her most powerful coalition cudgel, out of her hands.

“I called or talked face-to-face with each of the 61 coalition members. I told them, ‘Get your head straight on this, if you do not vote according to the coalition’s guidelines, we will lose everything. I made sure, one by one, that they know what they are voting for,” she said.

She noted that only two votes brought to the Knesset floor by the coalition failed, an extension of an order banning Palestinians who marry Israelis from obtaining citizenship........

© The Times of Israel

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