Former Likud MK Moshe Kahlon, known for leading a pricing revolution in Israel’s telecom industry, on Tuesday slammed his former party while announcing plans for a political comeback. He also said he had never seen eye-to-eye with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on social issues.
The 54-year-old, who was one of the few Likud leaders from a working-class, Sephardi background when he unexpectedly quit politics in late 2012 and sparked a wave of rumors about his intention to challenge Netanyahu, announced his imminent but undated return in a newspaper interview. “I’ve decided to return to politics,” he said, “but I haven’t decided on the framework.”
Speaking to Yedioth Ahronoth, Kahlon critiqued the direction and policies of Likud. “The question is what is Likud?” he asked. “Likud for me was really the Likud of Menachem Begin, who also represented a social vision: reducing disparities between rich and poor, neighborhood renewal, social rehabilitation, and education reform. It was a pragmatic Likud that knew how to make peace when needed. That is Likud for me. But that Likud no longer exists today, and I struggle to accept some of the things taking place within the party.”
“Likud is a way of life, Likud is social awareness, Likud is compassion and carrying for the weak,” Kahlon went on. “But Likud is no longer there, it has strayed from the path. In recent years Likud’s social banner has been dismantled… for the sake of political-security gains.”
He also slammed the growing far-right influence within the Likud, saying that the “extreme right” had “taken over” the party.
Kahlon, who served as communications minister, and later as welfare and social services minister, had been slated after quitting the cabinet to take over as head of the Israel Land Administration, with the goal of lowering housing prices in the same way that he cut mobile phone prices, particularly for young couples and discharged IDF soldiers.
However, a coalition agreement kept the ministry under the jurisdiction of Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party, stymieing Netanyahu’s plan to appoint Kahlon.
Some speculated that Netanyahu did not overextend himself to keep Kahlon around at the time, seeing him as a rival. “Netanyahu does not want people who threaten him by his side, he is afraid of good people,” said MK Erel Margalit (Labor) in 2013. “Kahlon is a man of action and the public loves him. He will bring results. It is a disgrace that Netanyahu is stopping a housing revolution for political considerations.”
When he stepped down ahead of January 2013’s elections, it was briefly believed that Kahlon would set up his own party, and several polls predicted he could win some 10 Knesset seats. But he stayed out of the race and kept a relatively low profile until Tuesday.
On his relationship with Netanyahu, Kahlon told Yedioth, “He has always understood that we ideologically clash on social issues, always, even in Knesset faction meetings. All along the way we have not seen eye to eye on these issues. For example, I supported the 2011 social protest movement. I thought it was spot-on. I guess that really upset him.”
“The bottom line is this,” said Kahlon, “There has been the same government for about five years, and we have seen the negative outcomes: in the cost of living, increasing brain drain from the country, food and housing prices. Today there is a very difficult atmosphere.”
Responding to Kahlon’s comments, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar (Likud) told Army Radio, “Kahlon is my friend, we meet and talk even now that he is removed from public life. Politics is not a place for friendship, so I’m not going to argue with him. I still hope he finds his way back to Likud. It is his natural place and home.”
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu) also told Army Radio that he appreciated Kahlon. “I welcome his return to politics regardless of what framework he runs for office.”
Adiv Sterman contributed to this report.