Foreign Minister Katz says Sa'ar 'crossing a red line'

As party battle heats up, Likud rival Sa’ar says Netanyahu should resign

Former minister stresses PM should step down because of political deadlock, not due to looming indictments for corruption

Likud party MK Gideon Sa'ar seen with Likud supporters during an event in Hod Hasharon, November 25, 2019. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Likud party MK Gideon Sa'ar seen with Likud supporters during an event in Hod Hasharon, November 25, 2019. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar said Tuesday that Benjamin Netanyahu should resign, marking a rare call from within Likud for the ouster of the party leader and prime minister.

Sa’ar, who earlier this week challenged Netanyahu to a leadership contest, accused Netanyahu of prolonging the political deadlock that has wracked the country for the last several months by refusing to step down.

“In his shoes I would take responsibility and resign and enable the party to carry out the democratic process,” Sa’ar told the Kan public radio station.

Sa’ar on Saturday night called for a snap primary for head of Likud in time to avoid a third round of elections. saying he could rehabilitate the party and form a government — a task Netanyahu has failed at twice this year.

The prime minister, facing criminal charges and stalled coalition talks, agreed Sunday to a leadership contest, but the primary will likely not take place until after the December 11 deadline for the Knesset to endorse a candidate for prime minister rather than force a new round of voting.

While many in the opposition have called for Netanyahu to step down following the announcement of criminal charges against him Thursday, Sa’ar cited the political morass as the main reason for the prime minister to resign.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Likud party rally in Tel Aviv, on November 17, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should take responsibility — not because of the indictment but because of the situation the country is stuck in, without the ability to establish a government,” Sa’ar said Tuesday.

After Netanyahu failed to form a majority coalition following April elections, he dissolved parliament to prevent his chief rival Blue and White party leader MK Benny Gantz from being given a chance to form a government. However, a second vote in September did not produce a clear victor and both Netanyahu and Gantz were subsequently unable to achieve either a coalition or a unity government between their parties.

While Blue and White refused to serve under a prime minister facing corruption charges, Netanyahu had insisted on bringing a bloc of allied parties into the government, likely enabling him to seek Knesset immunity from prosecution.

Netanyahu has vowed to stay on and fight the charges while serving as premier, accusing the law enforcement community of attempting a coup. On Monday, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced he could remain prime minister in a caretaker government, despite the charges, but did not comment on his ability to form a new one.

Sa’ar said Tuesday he would respect the decision of Likud members if, in a ballot, they chose Netanyahu to continue to lead the party.

Supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, November 23, 2019. Sign bottom right, reads ‘Investigate the investigators.’ (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Sa’ar noted that so far the Likud party has been faithful to Netanyahu throughout the course of the investigations into him — including supporting Netanyahu’s move to dissolve the previous Knesset and hold elections, which Sa’ar called “a serious mistake.”

“If we don’t make a change we are on the path to a crash and we will endanger all of our dearest values,” Sa’ar said.

Sa’ar, a popular former minister, has emerged as Netanyahu’s most strident challenger, exposing cracks in a Likud party where loyalty is fiercely guarded. Only four men have ever led the party and internal dissenters are often shunted aside, where they often form new political parties to challenge it from without.

While some lawmakers have been conspicuously silent, Sa’ar is the only senior Likud lawmaker to actively speak out against Netanyahu.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz, who has expressed interest in leading the party once Netanyahu’s time is up, denied Tuesday that he was among the silent dissenters, accusing Sa’ar of “crossing a red line.”

Culture Minister Miri Regev, among the prime minister’s most vocal supporters, told Kan earlier Tuesday that she hopes Sa’ar won’t “stab Netanyahu in the back.”

At an event on Monday, Sa’ar was heckled by pro-Netanyahu activists and called a “traitor” while he was speaking at an event in the central city of Hod Hasharon.

The party’s official spokesman also went on the attack, saying Sa’ar should have listened to the hecklers who “made it clear to him ‘Likud is a family and family you don’t betray.'”

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev broadcasts from the Likud mobile TV station as part of the party’s elections campaign, in Meron, Northern Israel, August 22, 2019. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Responding to Regev, Sa’ar claimed that she had in the past secretly offered him her support against Netanyahu, before she was made a minister.

“I still remember the days when she sidled up to me, attacked the prime minister, and declared that she would support me if I run against him,” Sa’ar said.

Former Likud justice minister Dan Meridor also called on Netanyahu to resign.

“Morally, with such a serious indictment, you should resign,” he said during an interview with Army Radio.

Meridor, who held several ministerial posts under Netanyahu during his 21 years as a lawmaker between 1984 and 2013 but has more recently sharply criticized the prime minister, called on current party MKs to not support granting Netanyahu parliamentary immunity from prosecution.

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