Former Likud lawmaker Gideon Sa'ar on Thursday called on fellow right-wing leader Naftali Bennett to "work together" ahead of Israel's March 23 election, arguing negative campaigning "will serve no one but [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu."
Sa'ar, who left Netanyahu's Likud to form his New Hope party, vowed to replace the prime minister, while Bennett, who heads Yamina, has failed to explicitly say whether he rules out joining a Netanyahu-led coalition after the vote.
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Latest public opinion polls predict a third opposition party, Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid, would be the second-biggest after Likud, rather than New Hope or Yamina.
"It’s important for Israel that we work together and change the country," Sa'ar wrote on Twitter, addressing Yamina's Bennett. "The good of the country requires replacing Netanyahu in order to unite the people and form a stable government."
"You aren’t our rival," Sa'ar added, saying his party would refrain from attacking Yamina, but argued negative campaigning so far has been "unilateral," effectively blaming Bennett for it.
On Wednesday, Channel 12 News reported that Sa’ar had anonymously promoted negative online articles against Bennett. The report said Yamina had petitioned the Central Elections Committee against the international advertising platform Outbrain, which the party accused of promoting the anti-Bennett material on the internet, and that attorneys for Sa’ar and New Hope had responded to the petition.
In an interview with the religious Zionist website Srugim earlier this week, Sa’ar accused Bennett of “campaigning constantly. I didn’t set up five parties over the last few years; Bennett did.”
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He also charged that “Bennett didn’t set foot in the Knesset, even on issues related to the coronavirus. Unfortunately, I’ve heard personal attacks from Yamina since the day after I founded my party.”
Bennett, responding to Channel 12’s report on Wednesday, said, “While I’ve been fighting the coronavirus over the last year, Sa’ar worked in the shadows to spread the coronavirus of hatred in a deceptive, cowardly, illegal campaign. Gideon, this isn’t how you build unity.”
In an interview with Meet the Press last month, Bennett said of Sa’ar, “During Israel’s most difficult year ever, what did you do? You were busy founding parties? Tell us; Where were you?”