As Israel’s Right Splinters, Netanyahu Is Challenged by Former Proteg

TEL AVIV- A former hero of Benjamin Netanyahu is challenging Israel’s longest serving leader, the most accurate indication yet of the country’s future and the fate of the country’s prime minister.

54-year-old Gideon Saar spent more than two decades running through the ranks of the Likud Party, starting as Cabinet Secretary to Mr. Netanyahu before serving in the powerful roles of Minister of Education and Interior.

But by failing to challenge Mr. Netanyahu for the leadership of Likud in late 2019, Mr. Sara broke up to form his own party called New Hope. The group offers Mr. Netanyahu a right-wing option for the upcoming election on March 23, the fourth parliamentary vote in less than two years.

Unlike the Israeli elections over the past decade, where Mr. Netanyahu faced left and center challenges, Mr. Sawyer is raising a serious leadership challenge for his former mentor.

This is a significant threat to Mr Netanyahu, who faces criticism over his handling of the coronovirus epidemic and his corruption trial. If Mr. Saar can continue to garner support from Mr. Netanyahu among right-wing parties in Parliament, he can prevent the Prime Minister’s return to office.

Mr. Netanyahu left in 2005 at a meeting in Knesset, with Mr. Saar, the center.


Olade Balti / Associated Press

“Everything is paralyzed,” Mr. Saar said in an interview at his Tel Aviv apartment, where he lives with his wife and two young children. He said that Mr. Netanyahu put his personal interests for the good of the country.

Voters cannot express their faith in an obscure leader like Mr. Saar. Mr Netanyahu, better known as Bibi, has been in power for 15 years, sparking two wars with Hamas militants in Gaza and tensions with Iran. In recent months, Mr. Netanyahu has been involved in diplomatic normalization brokers with Gulf Arab neighbors and presides over the world’s fastest Kovid-19 vaccine rollout.

Israeli Poll

Gideon Saar’s New Hope is expected to make strong gains in the March election.

Party seats in Israeli parliament


(Benjamin Netanyahu)

Joint list

(Ayman Odeh)

United Torah Judaism

(Yakov Litzman)

Yisrael Beitanu

(Avigdor Lieberman)

Blue White/

Israel Flexibility

(Benny Gantz)

Mr Netanyahu’s supporters dismissed Mr Sir as a “political opportunist” who left Likud after losing support in the party.

“Sawyer is assembling a party of backbenchers who are shouting ‘No Bibi’ from the stand, while the Prime Minister leads the revolutionary ‘Operation Return to Life’ vaccination program, a model for the world,” a loud party. The statement said, the vaccination campaign referring to Israel.

Mr. Saar’s political positions are similar to those of Mr. Netanyahu. He is a staunch supporter of Jewish settlements in the West Bank that has expanded under Mr Netanyahu and has drawn criticism abroad, including President Biden.

Mr. Saar does not support a construction freeze or the establishment of a Palestinian state, but will not rescind Mr. Netanyahu’s recent promises to parts of the West Bank as part of diplomatic normalization deals. Mr. Saar has also protested the US withdrawal for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which Mr. Biden said he wants to reconnaissance.

Although Mr. Do not rely too heavily on Mr. Netanyahu’s policy, he says he will usher in a new beginning of relations with the new US president. “I can deal with the Biden administration better than Netanyahu and do so while protecting my national interest and bringing something from the past that can upset,” he said.

Mr. Netanyahu’s relations with the Obama administration were tense, because of America’s nuclear deal with Iran, a staunch opponent of Israel. In previous elections, Mr. Netanyahu campaigned with giant hoardings shaking hands with former President Donald Trump, photographing him, describing the Republican leader’s greatest friend in the Israel White House.

“Even though they are from different political perspectives, he is not Netanyahu,” said Martin Indyck, a distinguished fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations. “Biden wants to build a positive constructive relationship with the Israeli Prime Minister.”

Although Mr. Saar is attracting some supporters away from Mr. Netanyahu, Likud is projected to remain the largest party in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. Under Yash Lepid, the Yash Attid Party is also rising in elections, complicating Mr Saar’s bid to frame the upcoming vote as a contest within the right wing.

Israel has been divided over the trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who faces corruption charges, including allegedly accepting gifts such as champagne, cigars and jewelry. WSJ’s Dow Lieber explains. Photo: Gully Tibbon / Associated Press (Originally published on May 24, 2020)

The role played by ultrathodox religious parties may be important in the race between Messrs. Netanyahu and Saar. Mr. Netanyahu has relied on him for political support. Mr. Saar has not ruled out sitting with him in a future government, but so far those parties have indicated that they will continue to support Mr. Netanyahu.

For both leaders, navigating Ultrathodox’s support is politically complex.

Israel’s ultrathodox communities have protested adherence to coronovirus restrictions and violently clashed with police during protests against them. This has led to ire among other Israelis and disappointment among public-health officials, who believe that continued rule breaking is undermining Coronovirus’s effort.

To become Prime Minister, a candidate must unite for a majority coalition with 61 seats in Knesset. A recent poll conducted by an Israeli radio station indicates New Hope winning 17 seats over 30 seats in Likud. In this scenario, Mr. Netanyahu would fall short of forming a ruling coalition, noting that many parties refuse to form an alliance with the Prime Minister.

“Until the essence broke, you said that reluctantly Netanyahu is the city’s only sport,” said Raven Haven, a political-science professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. “Now suddenly Netanyahu is surrounded by enemies.”

Losing Israel’s top government office would send Mr. Netanyahu into dangerous territory. He was convicted last year on charges of bribery, fraud and betrayal in relation to allegations of trust, he accepted expensive gifts from wealthy businessmen in exchange for official favors and two media moguls in exchange for positive press coverage of regulatory and financial leverage. Offered. He denies wrongdoing. He failed in a bid to win parliamentary immunity that saved him from prosecution while in office last year. His trial is set to resume next month.

Mr Sawyer spoke to supporters in Rishon Legion, Israel in December 2019.


Amir Cohen / Reuters

If Mr. Netanyahu does not return as prime minister, he cannot work in a governing coalition due to an Israeli law that requires ministers to resign. This law does not apply to Prime Ministers. Such a setback would also complicate any effort on the part of loyalists to pass any legislation that would save Mr Netanyahu from trial while serving as Prime Minister.

Daniel Tarlow, a 48-year-old who owns a catering business and lives in Elazar, a ghetto in the West Bank, said he would return Mr. Sawyer instead of Mr. Netanyahu this time because he felt the prime minister failed to help Small businesses during the epidemic.

“I was enough for his politics and gimmick,” Mr. Tarlow said of Mr. Netanyahu. “I take the essence to her word that she is an authentic Likud politician … if you were forced by Bibi, that means enough substance for you.”

write to Felicia Schwartz at [email protected]

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