Justice Minister Leaves Gantz, Foreign Minister Expected to Follow Suit Ahead of Election

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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Avi Nissenkorn (L) and Gabi Ashkenazi in the Knesset, December 2020.
Avi Nissenkorn (L) and Gabi Ashkenazi in the Knesset, December 2020.Credit: Danny Shem Tov / Knesset
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn announced on Tuesday his departure from Kahol Lavan, with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi expected to follow suit within a day or two, adding to the list of defections from Defense Minister Benny Gantz's party as politicians prepare for Israel's March election.

Gantz demanded that Nissenkorn resign from his role as justice minister, and is expected to take over the role himself. 

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Nissenkorn announced that he would be joining forces with Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, who is expected to announce his new party Tuesday evening.

Ashkenazi's move was not just motivated by the party's likely collapse in the upcoming March election, but also by tensions with Gantz, the party's chairman, about his leadership style, which he saw as overly secretive. He also expected Gantz to step aside and allow him to take the reins of the party.

Most of the lawmakers that are still part of Kahol Lavan do not expect that it will run in the March election on its own slate and that most members will quit the party by the time the parties must submit their final slates.

Announcing his decision, Nissenkorn said he hoped to work for "the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who don't have a political home.We will do this though actions and not just talk."

Gantz said after demanding Nissenkorn's regisnation: "Nissenkorn chose a new political home, and is therefore expected to resign from his role. The justice portfolio is one of Kahol Lavan's most important assets to protect democracy and the rule of law in the State of Israel, and we will continue to work as we have until now."

Earlier this month, Gantz held talks with Likud to prevent the dissolution of the Knesset, and agreed to curb Nissenkorn’s powers in bid to stave off elections and cement the rotation agreement for the premiership with Netanyahu.

However, he reneged on the understandings he reached with the prime minister under pressure from his colleagues and out of fear that they would break up the party.

Kahol Lavan lawmakers Asaf Zamir and Miki Haimovich announced Sunday they would also be leaving the party after breaking with the other members to vote in favor of dissolving the Knesset.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai is set to formally present a new political party on Tuesday evening. He said in a Monday statement that “several leading figures in Israeli public life” have joined forces with him. “Hundreds of thousands of Israelis feel they don’t have a home in the current political system,” Huldai said in a statement. “We will bring back their hope.”

Gantz is also expected to make a televised announcement on Tuesday evening. 

Netanyahu's Likud party has also seen a number of high-profile defections, with its lawmaker Gideon Sa'ar qutting the party to form his own, which has been joined by former Likud members Ze'ev Elkin, Sharren Haskel, Yifat Shasha-Biton and Michal Shir Segman.

Also this month, lawmaker Ofer Shelah announced he was leaving Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party, which he helped form, to start a new one.

The Knesset dissolved on December 23, as the legally mandated deadline to pass Israel's 2020 state budget expired, triggering a fourth election cycle in less than two years.

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