There’s no need to be a Likud member to identify with Gideon Sa’ar’s remarks when he announced Tuesday that he was leaving Likud, setting up a new party and planning to run against Benjamin Netanyahu for the premiership.
Sa’ar confirmed what everyone knows: “Loyalty to the path was replaced by a personality cult,” and that party “has become a tool to serve the interests of the prime minister, including those related to his criminal trial.” Likud, he said, had been taken over by “an illegitimate culture of systematic humiliation and defamation of political rivals inside and out.” Therefore, Sa’ar said, “I can no longer support a government led by Netanyahu and I cannot support a Likud headed by him.”
Let there be no illusions about Sa’ar’s positions. He is a deep-right politician, a veteran of Tehiya’s youth movement, an ardent supporter of annexing the territories. On the other hand, one cannot ignore the fact that this is the first rebellion against Netanyahu in Likud that’s based on principles of statesmanship and out of concern for the country and society.
Honesty – even from those who are not members of the right-wing camp – means admitting that under the current circumstances, with a group dynamic that resembles a cult more than a political party, it takes a lot of courage to take the political step that Sa’ar has taken.
One needn’t support Sa’ar’s positions – or alternately, expect that at the moment of truth he will refuse to sit with Netanyahu in the same government – to appreciate the fact that finally a senior Likud member has stepped up to break the silence and tell the truth about what’s going on in Netanyahu’s Likud and Israel, to resign and to try to create an alternative. Sa’ar’s move only further highlights the wretchedness, obedience and obsequiousness of those who are remaining with Netanyahu.
The damage Netanyahu has done to Likud, damage that Sa’ar has himself suffered, as have many before him (like Benny Begin, Dan Meridor, Michael Eitan, Moshe Kahlon and Avigdor Lieberman), is a microcosm of the damage Netanyahu has done to society and to the country. The difficulty in putting forward an alternative to Netanyahu has plagued left and right alike. From this perspective, Sa’ar’s threat to Netanyahu’s monopoly on the right will do a service to the opposing camp as well, because it will open the political field to competition.
The movement within Likud to renounce Netanyahu is a step that should not be underestimated. It may help free all of Israel from the grip of a criminally indicted prime minister who refuses to let go of the reins after 11 consecutive years in power.
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It’s commonly said that only the right can make peace. Perhaps it’s also true that only the right can bring down Netanyahu.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.