Netanyahu Says Former Likud Minister Conspired to Oust Him

At 69th birthday party, Netanyahu says Gideon Sa'ar 'cooked up a subversive trick' to bring him down 'contrary to democracy'

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara Netanyahu, celebrate his 69th birthday on October 24, 2018.
Amos Ben Gershom / GPO

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested on Wednesday that former Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar sought to conspire with President Reuven Rivlin to compel him to step down from the premiership after a presumed Likud victory in the next elections.

Speaking at his 69th birthday party, Netanyahu said: “For the past few weeks I know that a former Likud minister has been speaking with figures in the coalition and cooking up a subversive trick – that I bring Likud to a sweeping victory in the elections and afterward they’ll see to it that I won’t be prime minister, contrary to the will of Likud’s voters, contrary to the public will, contrary to democracy.

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“I travel the country together with you and I see the huge support for us: for me, for my wife, support the likes of which I don’t remember since I entered politics. And so from the outset this will fail because the public won’t let such a thing happen. But this did reveal a crack in the wall and we’ll think what to do about it,” Netanyahu said.

This was the first time Netanyahu related directly to a report about his suspicions published in Israel Hayom on Monday.

The president’s bureau denied the report. “We read the report in depth but had a hard time finding any credible information, save for a detailed description of paranoia which does not lean on any tangible step, or even thought, that happened in reality. As is known, the handling of such phenomena should be left to professionals, who are not spokesmen.”

Sa’ar also denied the reports. “I usually don’t relate to bizarre claims and especially not when there is no one who is willing to stand behind the statements and make them in his own voice,” Sa’ar tweeted. “But since my name was mixed in, I state clearly: There is no truth to the reports. They are completely baseless. I am disturbed by the thought that there is someone whispering such foolishness in the prime minister’s ear.” Sa’ar also tweeted that he was “longing for even a shred of evidence to support this ridiculous conspiracy theory.”

Israeli coalition whip David Amsalem (Likud) said on Wednesday he would promote a bill that would limit the president’s discretion in the decision on who to appoint to form a government after the elections.

A report in the pro-Netanyahu daily Israel Hayom said the initiative was born out of a fear around those close to Netanyahu that once he led the Likud to another election victory, Rivlin would choose another Likud MK to form the coalition government, in light of the corruption probes against Netanyahu. The prime minister decided to hold off on early elections due to concern over Rivlin’s decision, according to the report.

Sources close to Netanyahu denied the Israel Hayom report, saying the concern was not over Rivlin but only over a former Likud senior official who spoke to several coalition members about such a plan.

Amsalem called the idea “delusional on every level. It’s immoral, undemocratic and illogical.” He stressed he doesn’t believe such a scenario, in which Rivlin doesn’t task Netanyahu with forming the government if Likud wins, would happen.

According to a report on Kan Public Radio, Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett assessed during a closed Knesset meeting that Netanyahu is looking to have an early election around February or March.