Netanyahu Takes Aim at Rival Sa'ar in Likud Primary

Gideon Sa'ar responds: 'I'll behave like the responsible adult, won’t be dragged into a domestic war' ■ Habayit Hayehudi council recommends former IDF chief rabbi Rafi Peretz to head the party

Gideon Sa'ar at the Herzliya Conference, March 9, 2018.
Meged Gozani

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to prevent former Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar from winning Tuesday’s Likud primary, which would make Sa'ar second on the Likud slate after him, according to sources close to the prime minister. Netanyahu is not otherwise intervening in the party’s primary elections, the sources said.

Last October, Netanyahu accused Sa’ar of “concocting a subversive trick” to be able to serve as prime minister in his stead once Likud wins the next elections, and had approached several Likud members to garner support. Netanyahu believed that President Reuven Rivlin planned to ask a different MK from the winning party to form the government, according to reports from Israel Hayom. Both Sa’ar and Rivlin denied that they are involved in any such plot.

On Sunday night Netanyahu took to Facebook to address the issue in an interview on his page. He said, “more than two, three people” had told him that Sa’ar had approached them to promote his candidacy for prime minister. According to Netanyahu, Sa’ar told them that Rivlin wouldn’t give Netanyahu the go-ahead to form the next government because Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit plans to prosecute him. “I’m not making this up,” Netanyahu said. “His maneuver won’t succeed.”

Sa’ar responded, “Unfortunately, two days before the primaries the prime minister has chosen to try to recycle that false accusation that he first raised a few months ago. The goal is transparent – an attempt to harm me in the primaries. Likud members are smart and know very well those things are baseless. On the eve of critical elections for Likud, I’ll behave like the responsible adult and I won’t be dragged into a domestic war.

Habayit Hayehudi council recommends former IDF chief rabbi to head party

The public council appointed to recommend a new leader for the religious Zionist Hababyit Hayehudi party chose former IDF chief rabbi Rafi Peretz on Sunday evening. The recommendation still needs to be approved by the party’s central committee, which will meet on Monday to discuss the matter. 

Peretz is acceptable to most of the party and his candidacy is expected to be approved, said a number of sources within the party. Peretz is a brigadier general in the reserves and was a helicopter pilot before becoming the IDF chief rabbi. He left the position and the military in 2016.

The Habayit Hayehudi public council was appointed last week after the party central committee approved the cancellation of the party primary, which was how the party had chosen its leader and Knesset candidates in the past. The council members include rabbis and senior leaders from the party and the religious Zionist movement, including Rabbi Eli Sadan, the head of the pre-military academy in Eli; Rabbi Eliyahu Blumenzweig, the head of the Hesder yeshiva in Yeruham; party director general Nir Orbach and a number of deputy mayors from the party.

Peretz won out over a number of other candidates, including Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan and the mayor of Givat Shmuel, Yossi Brodni.

After choosing a new leader, because Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked abandoned the party to form a new party of their own, Hayamin Hehadash, the central committee will then begin the task of choosing its Knesset slate for the April 9 election.

Immediately after choosing its own candidates, Habayit Hayehudi will then have to begin negotiations with the National Union, which will be led by MK Bezalel Smotrich in the coming election. The parties will have to decide on the composition of a joint slate. In practice, the two parties have already agreed to run together, but Smotrich is expected to demand the top spot on the united list – as opposed to what has been the case in previous elections. Finally, cooperation and a joint list including the extreme far-right Otzma Yehudit party will be considered.

Peretz was appointed IDF chief rabbi in 2009 after serving as the head of the Otzem pre-military academy in Yated, which had been relocated for Gush Katif after the 2006 disengagement from Gaza. He returned to head the Otzem academy in 2016 after leaving the military.  

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