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Israeli lawmaker quits ruling coalition, citing journalist’s killing

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, right, and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid at a cabinet meeting Sunday in Jerusalem. (Abir Sultan/Pool/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

TEL AVIV — A Palestinian Israeli lawmaker on Thursday announced her resignation from Israel’s ruling coalition, citing the government’s support of Jewish right-wing groups and the recent killing of a prominent Palestinian American journalist.

The lawmaker, Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi, was the second Knesset member to quit Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s ruling coalition in the past two months, raising the prospect of new elections as the government struggles to keep power amid a surge in Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Surprise resignation of lawmaker roils Israel’s governing coalition

Rinawie Zoabi’s defection leaves the ruling coalition with 59 seats in the Knesset and its opponents with 61. That means the government can continue to operate until at least 2023. It remained unclear, though, if she intended to join the opposition in a vote that could dissolve the government

In a letter to Bennett, Rinawie Zoabi, who belongs to the left-wing Meretz party, said she “cannot support a coalition that harasses” her community.

“The last month, the month of Ramadan, has been unbearable,” she wrote on Twitter, referring to the clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians during the Islamic holy month in April. “The sights that came from the Temple Mount of violent policemen in front of a crowd of worshipers, the funeral of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, brought me to only one personal conclusion: no more.”

Arab American journalists around the world shared stories of slain reporter Shireen Abu Akleh’s impact and legacy in the wake of her killing on May 11. (Video: Joshua Carroll, Leila Barghouty/The Washington Post)

On Wednesday, Israeli Public Security Minister Omer Barlev said he would allow the Jerusalem flag parade to be held this month and pass through the Damascus Gate and into the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. In recent years, the parade has featured large groups of ultranationalists waving Israeli flags and chanting anti-Arab slogans as they pass Palestinian onlookers and businesses. Last May, the parade coincided with the start of an 11-day war in the Gaza Strip.

On May 11, Abu Akleh, a veteran journalist who worked for Al Jazeera, was killed while covering an Israeli military raid in the West Bank city of Jenin. Witnesses, her network and Palestinian authorities have said she was shot by an Israeli soldier. Israel’s military has said it is investigating but has not determined who fired the fatal shot.

On Thursday, the army’s criminal department said it would not investigate the shooting, saying there was no suspicion of “criminality” in the shooting of Abu Akleh.

The Israeli government, which was formed last June by a group of ideologically diverse parties that united to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been struggling to remain in power since the resignation of a senior lawmaker in April. The surprise announcement by Idit Silman, from Bennett’s own right-wing Yamina party, came as the government was being harshly criticized during a wave of Palestinian attacks that began in late March. Silman’s resignation nearly caused a cascade of defections by other right-wing politicians in the coalition who had criticized Bennett’s compromises with left-wing parties.

It is not yet clear if Rinawie Zoabi, who remains in Meretz, will support the opposition, led by Netanyahu, or will agree to an arrangement to continue voting with her party to keep the government in power.