Saar Grabs Votes from Likud, Yamina in New Poll

YERUSHALAYIM -
Founder of the New Hope party, former Likud MK Gideon Saar. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

If elections were held now, former Likud MK Gideon Saar would run a fairly close second to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, siphoning off votes from both Likud and its right-wing rival‏‏ Yamina, according to a poll released on Tuesday evening.

The Midgam/iPanel poll commissioned by Channel 12 forecast 27 seats for Likud, 21 for Saar’s New Hope party, displacing Yamina which slipped to fourth place with 13, behind Yesh Atid-Telem with 14.

Saar gained strength on Tuesday from the announcement by Yifat Shasha-Biton that she’ll be running with his party. A Likud MK who achieved notoriety earlier in the year by bucking the government’s lockdown policies from her chairmanship of the Knesset coronavirus oversight committee, Shasha-Biton was reportedly slated for No. 2 on New Hope’s electoral slate.

Respondents in the poll were questioned before her announcement, but taking the possibility of her bolting Likud into account. She was the first prominent Likud official to join Saar.

Erstwhile colleagues reacted vitriolically: Transportation Minister Miri Regev, told her to resign.

“Yifat Shasha-Biton, if you have a drop of integrity left, resign immediately from the Knesset and return the mandate to the national camp which you took for a ride for your own benefit. A disgrace,” Regev tweeted.

Coalition chair and head of the Likud Knesset faction Miki Zohar threatened punitive action, saying he would “declare Shaha-Biton as a defector,” a quasi-legal term for an MK who leaves the party they were elected to represent and is consequently barred from running on another list in the upcoming election.

The poll also predicted 11 for the Joint List, 8 each for Shas and United Torah Judaism, and 6 each for Blue and White, Yisrael Beytenu and Meretz.

The new configuration casts a shadow over Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s prospects for leading the next coalition. His right-religious bloc would be narrowed to 56 seats, while a potential bloc of ‏‏ New Hope, Yamina, Yisrael Beytenu, Blue and White and Yesh Atid-Telem could reach 60, of the 61 needed for a majority.