Netanyahu Rival Gets Major Boost as Likud Bigwig Backs Him for Party Leadership

Haim Katz, who also is influential at Israel Aerospace Industries, is among a handful of Likud members supporting Netanyahu's only challenger

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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Likud's Gideon Sa'ar speaking speaking in Ashkelon, December 2019.
Likud's Gideon Sa'ar speaking speaking in Ashkelon, December 2019.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

The chairman of the Likud Central Committee, Haim Katz, has endorsed Gideon Sa’ar in the former interior minister’s bid to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in next week’s leadership primary.

Likud Knesset members Yoav Kish, Michal Shir Segman and Etty Atia already support Sa’ar.

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MK Katz, a former labor minister, has headed the central committee since 2015. He is believed to have influence over thousands of Likud party members at Israel Aerospace Industries, where he once headed the workers’ committee. The Likud leadership primary is set for December 26.

In August, Katz resigned as labor minister after he was indicted on charges of fraud and breach of trust.

Likud MK Sharren Haskel also announced that she would back Sa'ar. In a Facebook post Sunday night, she wrote that she had a one-on-one conversation with Netanyahu, in which she told him that she made the difficult decision to Sa'ar in a learship primary.

Then-Labor Minister Haim Katz at a cabinet meeting in Eilat, August 4, 2019. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

"I'm sure that in the pages of history, Benjamin Netanyahu will be remembered as one who brought many achievements to Israel on the security and policy level as well as on the economic level," she wrote. "But on the other hand, within a year we were thrust into a difficult governance crisis and a third round of elections, after Likud was given the chance to form a government twice, and twice did not succeed."    

A key Likud member who has not declared his support in the leadership race is Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, but nearly all cabinet members from Likud back incumbent Netanyahu.

Sa’ar intends to officially launch his campaign on Monday in Tel Aviv suburb Or Yehuda. He has appointed Kish his campaign chief and will argue that only he can expand the right-wing bloc in the March 2 election, Israel’s third general election in 11 months after neither Netanyahu nor Kahol Lavan chief Benny Gantz managed to form a governing coalition.

Sa’ar is pressuring Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, whose relations with the prime minister are cold, to support him as well.

Sa’ar has also challenged Netanyahu to a televised debate. On Sunday, he tweeted that Israelis needed to hear the two candidates’ positions on diplomatic, security, economic, social and legal issues.

An online Kan poll Thursday asked respondents how they would vote if Sa'ar took hold of Likud. It projected that Likud under Netanyahu leadership would gain 31 seats, but would only receive 27 under Sa'ar. Kahol Lavan would gain 34, Yisrael Beiteinu seven, and the Union of Right-Wing Parties would gain four, but would not cross the threshold if Netanyahu ran Likud.