Gideon Sa’ar, who is challenging Binyamin Netanyahu for leadership of the Likud, received public backing Sunday from Chaim Katz, in what could turn out to be a key endorsement. Katz is one of the most well-connected Likud MKs, and is current Central Committee chairperson, with a large following among central committee members. He is also a veteran of Israel Aerospace Industries. As such, he could be responsible for swinging a large number of Likud member primary votes to Sa’ar.
In addition to Sa’ar, MK Etti Atiyeh of the Likud also announced that she would back Sa’ar. In a social media post Sunday, she said “I am very appreciative of the work Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has done and of his contribution to the state. With that, I believe that given the current political situation, we need a government that will be put together by Gideon Sa’ar.”
Sa’ar has already picked up endorsements from several Likud MKs, as well as party members and activists. In recent days, Saar has gotten nods from numerous Likud movers, including Holon Deputy Mayor Ezra Setton, Lod Likud chapter head Emil Hadad, Netanya Deputy Mayor Akiva Yitzchaki, Akko Likud chapter head Rotem Ohana, Ramat Aviv Likud chapter head Yaakov Dangor, and Metulla Council head David Azoulay. Both the current and former heads of the Shomron Regional Council, Yossi Dagan and Hananel Dorani, have given Sa’ar their nod. Last week, MKs Yoav Kisch and Michal Shir said they wanted Saar at the top of the list.
The face-off between Netanyahu and Saar will take place in 11 days, at the Likud primary. Speaking earlier Sunday, Likud MK and Netanyahu loyalist David Amsalem said that the party would be making a fatal mistake if it chose Saar as its leader. Calling Saar’s chances of beating Netanyahu “science fiction,” Amsalem told Reshet Bet that if he was chosen, the Likud would lose ten seats in the next Knesset. “The difference between Netanyahu and Saar is like that between a Mercedes and a ‘Sussita’ automobile,” referring to a model of automobile that was manufactured in Israel in the 1960s, not generally remembered for its high quality. In response, Saar said in an interview that while that may be true, “the Mercedes is heading off a cliff with no brakes, and when that happens, you jump out of the Mercedes and take the Sussita, and take it to the top.”
A poll in Yisrael Hayom Friday shows Blue and White forging ahead in votes and support, leaving behind the Likud, and the right. The poll shows the Benny Gantz-led party getting 37 Knesset seats if elections were held now, compared to just 31 for the Likud – if Binyamin Netanyahu leads the party. If Gideon Saar is the candidate, the Likud would still get 31 seats, but Blue and White would get just 33. With Netanyahu heading the right, the right-wing/chareidi bloc shrinks to 51 seats, but with Saar leading the Likud, the poll shows, the bloc would get 56 seats, while the Blue and White/Arab side would have 57 seats.