Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s plans for the upcoming election campaign were made more complicated on Tuesday, as longtime rival Gideon Saar announced his departure from the Likud in order to run at the head of his own party.
“Change in the leadership of the country is essential,” Saar said in a brief statement on Tuesday evening.
“The Likud has been my political and emotional home all my adult life. But the movement has become a tool for the interests of its leader, a personality cult for one man,” Saar charged.
“I can’t be a Likud member under Netanyahu’s leadership,” he added.
The new party will be called Tikva Hadasha, or New Hope.
Saar, who headed the Interior and Education ministries during his years in the Likud, mounted an unsuccessful challenge to Netanyahu’s leadership of the Likud in 2019 after taking a four-year hiatus from politics. He was defeated by a lopsided margin of 72.5% to 27.5%.
Speculation swirled around the possible members of the new party. Likud MK Yifat Shasha-Biton, who has been a high-profile dissenter in the government over coronavirus policy, was thought to be a likely prospect.
Derech Eretz MKs Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel, currently in the coalition, were named as well.
Former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot has also not ruled out joining forces with Sa’ar, according to Channel 12 news.
Earlier, Yisrael Beyteinu chief Avigdor Liberman told Radio 103FM that “It is possible that 3-4 MKs from the Likud will join him.”
The Times of Israel quoted sources close to Saar who said that he hopes to forge alliances with existing factions.
“Everything is on the table,” they said, stressing that Saar aims to become “a serious political force” and realizes he needs to create a broad right-wing coalition to do so.
In response, Likud MK Shlomo Karhi said that Saar must resign from the Knesset if he is leaving the Likud.
“It’s unfortunate that someone who was the flesh and blood of the Likud party decided to turn his back in a time of crisis,” Karhi, a Netanyahu ally, wrote on Twitter.
Karhi predicted that Saar’s electoral bid will fail: “The decision to join the ‘just not Bibi’ bloc arouses disgust among the right-wing public and will be reflected at the ballot box.”
A Netanyahu spokesman put out previous statements by Saar saying the Likud was his political home and he would never leave, including last May after Netanyahu did not appoint him a minister.
The next candidates on the Likud list are Nissim Vaturi and Shevah Stern.
“If I have to buy a suit, I will,” Stern said. “I didn’t buy one for my son’s wedding last week.”
The Knesset House Committee will meet on Wednesday to set a date for the election and legislate the Knesset dispersal bill that Blue and White wants to pass into law by the end of next week.
Updated Tuesday, December 8, 2020 at 3:04 pm .