'He Hounded Me': Netanyahu Rival Gideon Sa'ar Launches Party Leadership Campaign

'A vote for Netanyahu is a vote for the next opposition leader,' Sa'ar tells supporters, saying there is no chance the prime minister will succeed in forming government after failing twice

Gideon Sa'ar at his campaign launch event in Or Yehuda, December 16, 2019.
Daniel Bar-On

Likud MK Gideon Sa'ar launched his campaign to challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the Likud party's premiership Monday evening, saying that "there is no one in politics for whom I did more" than Netanyahu, and that he does not regret it.

Speaking before hundreds of supporters in the central Israeli city of Or Yehuda, Sa'ar said Netanyahu is "one of the greatest leaders of Likud and Israel, and one of the most important prime ministers that we've had," adding that he roused the spirit of the nation and achieved political feats.

At the same time, Sa'ar said, the prime minister has also "hurt me, hounded me, paid me back with pain for my good deeds, because I always did my best to focus on the good of the party and the good of the state."

Outside the hall where Sa'ar was speaking, 15 Netanyahu supporters stood in protest, calling the former minister's supporters "traitors."

The painful truth, Sa'ar said, is that the prime minister is obstructed: "Every intelligent person understands that there's no chance that he'll form a government." He added that "The decision that stands in front of us next Thursday" – the date of the party primary – "is simple. Voting for me will ensure that a Likud rule, and a new government led by us," he said. "A vote for Netanyahu is a vote for the next opposition leader."

"If we don't bring about a change, we are very close to a left-wing government," he warned, adding that such a government would also foil "a true reform in the legal system, and it is needed."

On Sunday, Sa'ar garnered the endorsement of Likud Central Committee Chairman Haim Katz. The former labor minister, who has led the party's central committee since 2015, is believed to have influence over thousands of Likud party members at Israel Aerospace Industries, where he once headed the workers’ committee. Sa'ar is also backed by Likud MKs Sharren Haskel, Michal Shir Segman, Etty Atia and Yoav Kish.

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.

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.