Hours before deadline, Blue and White MK jumps ship for Likud

Gantz’s party had booted Gadi Yevarkan off its slate after he warned he might switch to Netanyahu’s if he was not given a higher place on electoral roster

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Then-Blue and White MK Gadi Yevarkan in May 2019. (YouTube screenshot)
Then-Blue and White MK Gadi Yevarkan in May 2019. (YouTube screenshot)

Hours before the midnight deadline to file party slates ahead of March’s election, the Likud party on Wednesday gained a surprising new addition to its own electoral list: Blue and White MK Gadi Yevarkan

Following a Blue and White announcement earlier Wednesday that it was removing Yevarkan from its list of candidates after he threatened to move over to the rival Likud, the ruling party confirmed that Yevarkan would be placed as No. 20 on its own slate.

“I have decided, in coordination with MK Moshe Ya’alon, to remove MK Gadi Yevarkan from the Blue and White slate,” Blue and White party chair Benny Gantz had said in a tweet.

Yevarkan, who was placed at number 33 on the Blue and White electoral slate and has been a lawmaker since the April elections, told the party leadership earlier Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party had offered him the 20th spot on its own slate, and demanded a higher slot or else he could join Likud.

According to Channel 20, Yevarkan held a meeting with the prime minister to discuss the move.

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz (R) and party MKs Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi at a faction meeting in Tel Aviv on January 8, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Yevarkan was reportedly frustrated that despite his value to Blue and White as a popular member of the Ethiopian-Israeli community, he is not being promoted to a spot that will ensure he remains a Knesset member. Blue and White currently has 33 parliament seats, meaning that if it were to lose a single seat in the March 2 vote, Yevarkan would have been out.

MK Pnina Tamano-Shata, who is also a member of the Ethiopian-Israeli community, holds the 24th slot on the Blue and White.

Blue and White MK Pnina Tamano-Shata. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Tens of thousands of Ethiopian-Israeli voters are believed to have left Likud in the September elections and voted Blue and White instead, following major protests against police brutality toward the community after a police officer shot dead 19-year-old Solomon Tekah. The officer is suspected of firing his weapon directly between Tekah’s feet. The bullet then ricocheted and killed the teenager.

During those protests, Yevarkan, who was previously a Likud member and ran on its slate for elections for the 19th Knesset in 2013 but failed to make it into the parliament, openly criticized both Likud and Netanyahu for its treatment of the Ethiopian-Israel community.

Ethiopian-Israelis and supporters protest police violence and discrimination in Tel Aviv, July 8, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Yevarkan was head of the Be’eri military academy and a longtime activist with the Campaign for the Equality of Ethiopian Jews before entering the Knesset on the Blue and White slate after the April 2019 election.

He made headlines in April when he kissed his mother’s feet in a show of gratitude upon taking the oath of office as a member of the 21st Knesset.

Before the April election he joined Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem party, which merged with Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience faction, which in turn joined Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid to form the Blue and White party.

Yevarkan’s departure means that Michal Cotler-Wunsh, an attorney and daughter of former Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler, moves up the list to the 33rd slot on the slate.

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