Elazar Stern joins Lapid’s Yesh Atid party

MK left Hatnua party over its merger with Labor; Herzog’s overtures turned down by ex-army chief Gabi Ashkenazi

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Yair Lapid (right) and new Yesh Atid recruit MK Elazar Stern at a press conference in Tel Aviv, on January 18, 2015. (Photo credit: Ben Kelmer/FLASH90)
Yair Lapid (right) and new Yesh Atid recruit MK Elazar Stern at a press conference in Tel Aviv, on January 18, 2015. (Photo credit: Ben Kelmer/FLASH90)

MK Elazar Stern, formerly of Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua party, has joined the Yesh Atid party, led by former finance minister MK Yair Lapid, ahead of March’s Knesset elections.

The development came as former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi rejected an offer from the Labor Party to join its ranks.

Stern, who last month announced he was leaving Hatnua after Livni signed a deal to run on a joint ticket with the Labor Party, formally announced his move Sunday in a press conference with Lapid.

“Yesh Atid is delighted to sign up someone who was, in practice, the 20th member of Yesh Atid,” Lapid said, noting that even while Stern was a member of Hatnua in the last Knesset his legislative record was of a parcel with those of the 19 MKs of Yesh Atid.

He further noted that Stern had “fought with us shoulder to shoulder” to push through legislation for universal national draft into the army, a move strongly opposed by the ultra-Orthodox community that became one of the major political battles fought during the previous government.

Stern affirmed that while he was serving as an MK for Hatnua he was told by others that he was closer to the ideology of Yesh Atid. It always flattered me, that identification,” he recalled.

Speaking of his departure from his previous party, he insisted that it was Livni who pulled away from him. “The one who split was Livni, not me,” he said. “We didn’t get to talk about a position [on the list].”

Stern explained that he sees himself as a centrist, even leaning a little to the right, but certainly not left-wing as was demanded by Hatnua’s fusion with the Labor Party. “I couldn’t find my place there,” he said.

An Orthodox former IDF general, Stern joined the Hatnua party ahead of the 2013 elections.

In his resignation letter, Stern said that “Livni sold seats on the [party] list for the sake of the rotation with [Labor Party leader Isaac] Herzog.” Under her agreement with Labor, should their party form the next coalition after the elections, Livni would serve as prime minister for the last two years of the four-year term.

A Channel 2 poll last week predicted that the joint Labor-Hatnua list, which has dubbed itself the “Zionist Camp,” could win 25 sits in the next Knesset, two more than Likud’s projected 23. Yesh Atid was seen as winning 11 seats.

Meanwhile, Labor, which has been courting Ashkenazi, has been turned down by the former IDF chief of staff, Army Radio reported.

Ashkenazi said he would not launch a political career until his name was cleared in an ongoing police investigation into his alleged involvement in a high-level scandal between 2009 and 2011.

After probing the case for a year and a half, police special investigative unit Lahav 433 determined last September that there was sufficient evidence to indict Ashkenazi on charges of breach of trust and divulging classified information to journalists.

Former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

On Saturday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party lost a senior member in Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir, who said Saturday he would not run in the upcoming Knesset elections.

Shamir, the party’s No. 2 and the son of former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, become the latest Yisrael Beytenu higher-up to quit amid a massive corruption scandal implicating party officials that broke last month, although he was not on the list of members being investigated.

The resigning minister joined Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirshenbaum, one of the main suspects in the sting, Tourism Minister Uzi Landau, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee chairman, David Rotem, all of whom have said they are not running in the March 17 elections.

Shamir said he was stepping down because of party leader Avigdor Liberman’s new foreign policy platform ahead of the elections, which envisions a land and population swap with the Palestinians in a future peace agreement.

The Channel 2 poll found Yisrael Beytenu would plummet from its 13 parliament seats in the previous government to just seven in the coming elections.

Israel’s national elections for the 20th Knesset are scheduled for March 17.

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