Gantz Fires Minister Who Endorsed Netanyahu Rival Sa'ar as Israel Nears Another Election

Yoaz Hendel has announced his support for former Likud lawmaker Gideon Sa'ar's candidacy for prime minister, as Israel set for fourth election in two years

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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Benny Gantz delivers his first electoral speech in Tel Aviv on January 29, 2019.
Benny Gantz delivers his first electoral speech in Tel Aviv on January 29, 2019. Credit: Thomas COEX / AFP
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz dismissed on Sunday Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel over the latter’s decision to endorse former Likud lawmaker Gideon Sa’ar’s candidacy for prime minister, as Israel is set for its fourth election in two years.

Hendel ran with Gantz’s Kahol Lavan in Israel’s 2020 election, which gave Gantz the authority to fire him, but broke off from the party together with Zvi Hauser to form their Derech Eretz faction. In a press conference on Wednesday – a day after Sa’ar announced he would start a new party – Hendel and Hauser said they would join forces with him.

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In his Monday statement, Gantz said: “Hauser and Hendel have chosen their new political home, and with that their journey as officeholders on behalf of Kahol Lavan comes to an end.”

Gantz will serve as communications minister in Hendel's place.

Hauser serves as chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Gantz doesn’t have the authority to dismiss him, as the move requires a vote by lawmakers.

Yoaz Hendel speaks at a conference in 2019.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Earlier on Monday, the two right-wing politicians said they would resign if Gantz’s Kahol Lavan and Prime Minsiter Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud parties agree to further delay a state budget deadline, which has been moved forward several times and is currently set for December 23. 

Amid an ongoing coalition crisis, Hauser and Hendel claim that such a delay wouldn’t be able to prevent an election.

If the Knesset fails to pass a state budget for 2020 by next week, the parliament will automatically dissolve, sending Israelis to the polls once again. The Knesset could also vote on a bill to dissolve, which has passed its preliminary vote, but still awaits three more votes for it to pass.

Sa'ar's Tuesday announcement that he was leaving Netanyahu's party came a few days after the Knesset voted to dissolve itself in a preliminary vote. 

The Netanyahu rival has garnered significant support among Likud voters and challenged the prime minister’s Likud leadership last year in a party primary. He plans to form a center-right party while trying to convince former and current lawmakers, as well as other prominent figures who have not yet entered politics, to join his roster.

Handel and Hauser's decisions to team up with Sa'ar did not come as a surprise. Hauser served as a government secretary under Netanyahu and Handel served as director of communications and public diplomacy at the Prime Minister's Office. Both ran on the Gantz's Kahol Lavan slate and broke with him after Gantz decided to form a unity government with Netanyahu following the March 2 election, but eventually joined the government.

Handel, Hauser and Sa'ar all belong to the ideological right, with the shared goal of attracting the moderate religious vote as well as the secular vote.

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