Former defense chief Ya’alon launches new political party, Telem

Hawkish former Likud member, who left party after Netanyahu ousted him from ministry, promises his electoral slate ‘will put the country back on the right track’

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

Former defense minister Moshe Ya'alon speaks at an event in Jerusalem on December 27, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Former defense minister Moshe Ya'alon speaks at an event in Jerusalem on December 27, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon officially registered his new political party on Wednesday, revealing that it will be called Telem and promising it will be “a political force that will put the country back on the right track.”

While Ya’alon, who entered politics after serving as IDF chief of staff, has long promised to lead a new political party to challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, registering Telem was his first formal step toward running in the April elections.

Telem takes its name from a past party helmed by another former chief of staff, Moshe Dayan. The original Telem was an acronym for “Tnua LeHithadshut Mamlachtit,” meaning the Movement for National Renewal.

Ya’alon’s version is an acronym for “Tnua Leumit Mamlachtit,” which literally translates as “National Statesmanlike Movement,” and connotes national responsibility.

But while Ya’alon may be seeking to invoke the memory of Dayan, a celebrated war hero-turned politician, he said Wednesday that the new party will become a major and long-term force within Israeli politics, unlike Dayan’s, which lasted only two years, from 1981 to 1983.

“This is a momentous and joyous day for all Israeli citizens,” Ya’alon said in a statement announcing the new party. “On a day that brings hope to all, I have the privilege to carry a great responsibility – a responsibility to all our friends and supporters with us today, and to those who will join us on the road ahead.”

Then IDF chief of staff of Moshe Ya’alon disembarks from a helicopter on August 6, 2002. (Flash90)

Ya’alon vowed he would “lead by example” and cited the senior positions he has held in the military and politics.

“I was raised to take responsibility with humility and lead through action. I was raised [to learn] that our actions must set an example for those that follow us, and as a citizen and a public figure, to do everything in my power to ensure Israel’s existence, security, peace and growth,” he said.

Ya’alon said his new party would serve as an “independent political force” and help put the “country back on the right track.”

“The internal and external challenges facing us require a firm and unifying leadership. An experienced and responsible leadership that will plan and accomplish all that is necessary in all aspects of life. A leadership that will protect our right to live here in peace and security,” he said.

“It’s time for a different leadership. Leadership that you can trust and rely on,” Ya’alon added.

Ya’alon, a hawkish former Likud member, has been vowing to challenge Netanyahu since he was ousted from the Defense Ministry in 2016 by the prime minister, to be replaced by Avigdor Liberman. He quit the ruling Likud party and the Knesset shortly thereafter, and has since frequently criticized Netanyahu and indicated he would return to politics to run against him.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, with then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, center, and then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, right, in southern Israel on July 21, 2014. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

Ya’alon has in the past cited Israel’s economic and social woes, including racism and sexism, as issues he would seek to address in a leadership position.

Though recent polls have indicated Ya’alon would fail to clear the minimum vote threshold needed to enter the Knesset, reports have said he is in talks with former chief of staff Benny Gantz to form an electoral alliance, with the latter doing well in the polls.

Gantz, who commanded the military when Ya’alon was defense minister, formally entered politics last week with the registration of his new party, Israel Resilience. He has been largely mum on his political views and has not commented on whether he would join a Netanyahu-led government.

Surveys have said Gantz’s party would finish second to Likud in elections, though well behind it. They have also indicated he could pose a more potent challenge to Netanyahu’s ruling party if he were to team up with the opposition Zionist Union or Yesh Atid — alliances Gantz is reportedly inclined to rule out.

Amid fears that a multiplicity of factions could split the opposition vote, a number of political figures have called for parties to join forces against the premier, a suggestion that Ya’alon said Saturday that he supports.

“It is possible to find a broad common camp for [a united front of] what I call a Zionist left, responsible right, and everything in between,” he said, adding that differences over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should not cause a divide.

Speaking at a cultural event in Haifa, Ya’alon added, however, that he would not agree to join any government headed by Netanyahu.

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