Bennett aims at insurgent Sa’ar as battle for right-wing votes kicks off

Yamina chief says lawmakers suffer from ‘obsession’ over prime minister’s suitability to run country, should instead address real problems

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett speaks during a Knesset plenary session in Jerusalem on August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)
Yamina leader Naftali Bennett speaks during a Knesset plenary session in Jerusalem on August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)

Yamina party leader MK Naftali Bennett went on the offensive Wednesday against MK Gideon Sa’ar, a day after the veteran Likud lawmaker announced he would establish a rival party expected to vacuum up votes from other right-wing parties.

Bennett, whose has been projected in polls to mount a serious challenge to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, chastised politicians for obsessing over the premier, as Israel barrels toward a fresh election that is expected to largely be a referendum on the indicted Likud leader.

“Israel has got an obsession,” Bennett said during a plenum session in the Knesset. “The political system and the media have a crazy obsession.”

“Yes Bibi, No Bibi,” he said using a nickname for Netanyahu. “You don’t set up a party for that.”

Bennett, who has previously vowed to unseat Netanyahu, urged his fellow lawmakers to put aside their political differences and focus on dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.

Sa’ar, long seen as Netanyahu’s chief rival within Likud, announced his intention to leave the party at a Tuesday press conference in which he railed against the prime minister, saying Likud had become a “tool for the personal interests of the person in charge, including matters relating to his criminal trial,” and had fostered “a cult of personality” around Netanyahu. He submitted his resignation from the Knesset Wednesday.

Screen capture from video of Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar as he announced he was resigning from the party, December 8, 2020. (Channel 13 news)

Bennett’s comments came hours after the Knesset House Committee advanced a measure that will dissolve the Knesset and send Israel back to the polls on March 16, the fourth election in two years. The legislation requires three more votes to be final.

The government, which has limped along amid infighting between Netanyahu’s Likud and partner Blue and White led by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, has come to a head over a budget crisis.

A poll rushed into publication shortly after Sa’ar’s announcement showed his New Hope party getting as many as 17 seats, with Likud, Yamina, and Blue and White all weakened.

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