Israeli lawmaker quits, threatening Bennett's hold on parliament

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JERUSALEM, April 6 (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett lost his razor-thin parliamentary majority on Wednesday after a lawmaker from his nationalist party quit, leaving his government with a more precarious grip on power but in no immediate danger of collapse.

The walkout by Idit Silman, a step she said she took on ideological grounds, left Bennett in control of 60 of the 120 seats in the Knesset.

As the assembly is in spring recess, the premier was spared any imminent no-confidence votes.

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To succeed, such votes would need the backing of at least 61 lawmakers, including Arab legislators who are outside the ruling coalition but also long-time political enemies of the current opposition leader, former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But by abandoning her post as Knesset coalition chairwoman in the name of preserving "the Jewish identity of the State of Israel", Silman dealt a blow to Bennett's efforts to keep together a rare alliance of liberal and Arab deputies who opted to join his government last June.

Assembling that coalition empowered Bennett to end Netanyahu's record 12 years in power. Netanyahu welcomed Silman "back home to the nationalist camp" and urged similarly minded coalition members to follow suit.

Bennett had no immediate comment. Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahane of the premier's now shrunken Yamina ("Rightward") party said Silman's announcement had come as a surprise.

"I hope it's reversible," Kahane told Army Radio. "This government is doing good things for the nation."

Silman, an Orthodox Jew, has also clashed with the health minister over whether Israeli hospitals should enforce strict kosher regulations during the upcoming Passover holiday. Secular Jews and Arab Israelis would likely chafe against such curbs.

In her statement, Silman voiced hope for the creation of a right-wing government "even during this current Knesset" - a call for Bennett's coalition to be brought down before the next election, which is slated for 2025.

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Writing by Dan Williams Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Bradley Perrett

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