In a stunning development on Wednesday night, Likud MK Zeev Elkin, one of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s most valued allies, quit the party to join Gideon Saar’s New Hope party.
The defection of Elkin, who has until now been Netanyahu’s close adviser and translator in his dealings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and a longtime senior Likud figure, is being viewed as a significant blow to the prime minister’s reelection campaign.
In a public address on Wednesday night, Elkin, like three other Likud MKs who left the party in recent days, delivered a rebuke to Netanyahu, all the more stinging because of his closeness to him:
“For many years, I’ve worked alongside Benjamin Netanyahu… I very much respect him,” Elkin began.
“But unfortunately, in the past two years and specifically recently, I increasingly feel that his personal considerations and the whims of his close associates are becoming more central in his decision-making process, which are critical for the State of Israel and its citizens.
“As someone who is watching this dangerous process from up close, I see how his personal considerations are getting mixed up with the national considerations, and even triumphing” over the national interest.
“Mr. Prime Minister, I know you well. And I know you are watching this right now,” continued Elkin, who said he anticipates attacks on him from Likud members, “but they are afraid of you, from the atmosphere you’ve created. You’ve crushed the party’s democracy.”
“When you need to, you have no problem making promises with no intention of keeping them,” he said, an apparent reference to accusations that he never intended to honor his rotational agreement with Benny Gantz.
Elkin said he hopes Netanyahu is acquitted of the corruption charges against him, “but the time has come for new leadership, different leadership.”
Currently, Elkin holds the portfolios of Higher and Secondary Education Minister and Water Resources Minister.
A rejoinder from Likud was issued soon after the speech, which attributed Elkin’s departure to career disappointments:
“Water Minister Elkin skipped from Kadima to Likud and from Likud to Gideon [Saar] simply because he didn’t get into the top ten [slots] in Likud and didn’t receive the job he wanted. Gideon’s party is a refugee camp for defectors who failed in the democratic primaries in Likud and are unable to get elected,” the Likud statement read.
Elkin placed 12th in the last party primaries.