Israeli Lawmaker Shasha-Biton Leaving Netanyahu's Party to Join His Rival's

Likud MK Yifat Shasha-Biton to join Gideon Sa'ar's new party, which MKs Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser are also joining

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Lawmaker Yifat Shasha-Biton at a Knesset committee meeting, July 1, 2020.
Lawmaker Yifat Shasha-Biton at a Knesset committee meeting, July 1, 2020.Credit: Adina Valman / Knesset

Likud MK Yifat Shasha-Biton has announced that she is joining the new party being set up by MK Gideon Sa’ar, who has left Likud. Shasha-Biton tweeted a photo of the two of them together, with the caption: “We’re on our way.”

Last week, lawmakers Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser from the Derech Eretz faction also said they would be joining Sa’ar in the next election and that they support his candidacy for prime minister. Following their announcement, Kahol Lavan chairman Benny Gantz fired the two on Monday. He informed Hendel that he was no longer minister of communications, and told Hauser that he was initiating steps to remove him as chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. The two lawmakers were part of Kahol Lavan in the last election.

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Gantz said on Tuesday that MK Eitan Ginzburg would replace MK Zvi Hauser as the head of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Hauser is expected to step down as committee chairman. The appointment of Ginzburg requires the approval of other committee members. Ginzburg is expected to remain in his current role as chairman of the House Committee.

Sa’ar said last Tuesday that he was leaving Likud to form a new party, and resigned from Knesset the following day. He said he was doing so to run against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and replace him. Sa’ar told the media he could no longer support a government headed by Netanyahu or support Likud under his leadership. “Loyalty to a path has been replaced by a cult of a flesh and blood person,” he said, adding that “the party has become an instrument used in the interests of the prime minister, including in affairs relating to his criminal trial.” Furthermore, he said, “Likud has been taken over by an unacceptable culture of systematic shaming and smearing of political rivals, inside and outside the party.”

A poll released by Channel 12 News Tuesday shows the hypothetical party led by Sa’ar surging ahead to become Israel’s second largest party, were elections held now.

The party with Shasha-Biton would garner 21 seats, trailing Likud by just six seats. This represents an increase of five seats since Channel 12’s previous poll last week, which awarded the new party 16 seats. If Sa’ar keeps his promise not to join a Netanyahu government, it would be difficult for the prime minister to form a coalition with the current poll numbers. The poll also gave Likud one more seat than it gained in the previous poll, and Naftali Bennett’s far-right party Yamina dropping from 18 seats to 13.

Sa’ar pledged over the weekend not to serve again in a government headed by Netanyahu. Hendel said the same thing on Tuesday. “We gave Netanyahu one chance, and I say explicitly that we will not give him another one,” said the outgoing communications minister in an interview with Channel 12 news. “We are creating an alternative to Netanyahu. If we don’t succeed, we’ll sit in the opposition.”