Photo Credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash 90
Gideon Sa'ar on a tour of south Tel Aviv in 2013, a year before his retirement from political life.

MK Gideon Sa’ar on Monday welcomed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to hold Likud primaries for the post of party chairman in the coming weeks, but in an interview with Reshet Bet radio Monday morning he once again called for holding the primaries before the end of the Knesset’s 21 day deadline before its dispersement.

“I believe that if I win such primaries, I can form a government in the current Knesset and unite the nation,” Sa’ar said, adding, “Netanyahu will not be able to form a government even if there are third and fourth elections. He has to draw his own conclusions.”

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The last time Netanyahu was elected Likud chairman was not through primaries but by a decision of the Likud’s internal court in January 2016. That tribunal ruled that because there was no candidate to run against Netanyahu, the primaries were pointless and should be canceled.

PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s election poster with the heading ‘Strong Likud,’ carried by demonstrators on the eve of his pre-indictment hearing, October 1, 2019. / Tomer Neuberg/Flash90

In his remarks on Monday morning, Sa’ar addressed the planned support demonstrations for the prime minister being organized by Likud Center, saying: “I think it’s disturbing that the party apparatus, party employees who receive their wages from the membership fees I and my friends pay, are being used to organize demonstrations against the so-called government coup attempt. I also hope the news that the Prime Minister will take part in such a demonstration is not true.”

On November 3, 2014, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar resigned from the Knesset to take time off from political life. In April 2017, Sa’ar announced that his retirement from politics was over and that he intended to return to activity in the Likud. He then embarked on an “Across Israel” campaign with the aim of presenting his ideas and listening to the public.

In October 2018, Benjamin Netanyahu accused Sa’ar of conspiring with President Reuven Rivlin to endorse Sa’ar as prime minister following a Likud win in the next elections.

In February 2019, ahead of the elections for the 21st Knesset, Sa’ar ran in the Likud primaries and came in fifth on the Likud Knesset list.

In October 2019, after announcing that the Likud wants to hold lightning primaries, Gideon Sa’ar Tweeted: “I’m ready.”

Supermayor, Jerusalem, NIr Barkat / Asher Schwartz

Speaking to Reshet Bet Monday, Sa’ar referred to the attacks against him by members of his party, led by MK and former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, saying Barkat “came to us from the Kadima party, after having supported the Gaza disengagement and the Oslo accords – he should show some humility.”

“You can’t throw mud at a veteran party member when you just arrived yesterday,” Sa’ar said about Barkat, and added that all he, Sa’ar, wants are democratic elections. I will face the chairman of the movement Benjamin Netanyahu,” Sa’ar said. “There’s a mud slinging campaign against me and my family. Anyone following the social networks sees there are violent threats as well. […] None of this will deter me from doing the right thing for the Likud. I believe that even if there are people in the Likud who do not understand what I’m doing – they will understand me in the future.”

“If we don’t return to the party’s fundamental principles, we will end up going to places we don’t want to,” Sa’ar said. “I have great respect for the Prime Minister and he has earned many credentials, but right now we must do everything to keep our hold of the government.”

MK Nir Barkat (Likud) told Army Radio on Monday morning that “It’s obvious that an attempt is being made to oust the prime minister. Calling for primaries immediately on the grounds that our prime minister has failed, trying to oust an incumbent prime minister, is unacceptable. Blue&White are just waiting for this coup attempt, and I believe that over the past two days this rebellion has failed.”

“No one wants third elections, but to try to oust an incumbent prime minister who was elected in democratic elections at this most difficult time? The prime minister is innocent until proven guilty, and the law allows him to continue to function. The prime minister has also agreed to the leave of absence outline proposed by the president, which is why I suggest – there won’t be any rebellion here.”

Sa’ar tweeted a response to Barkat’s comments: “When I fought for the Likud, which was left with 12 seats [in the March 28, 2006 elections] – Barkat celebrated with champagne in the Kadima headquarters where he was a member. After a few days in the Knesset […] to prove that he exists, Barkat runs an incitement campaign against me. Barkat, you should learn: You don’t buy Likudniks with money, and you don’t get leadership with zigzagging and winking.”

On Sunday night, Kan 11 TV reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud Center Chairman MK Haim Katz agreed that the primaries to elect a Likud chairman would not be held in the next few days, but only in a few weeks, probably after the Knesset dispersion.

Sa’ar said he welcomed the prime minister’s agreement to hold a Likud leadership primary, but repeated his call to hold the elections before the end of the 21-day deadline for the Knesset to choose a prime minister, in order to prevent third elections.

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