Former Likud lawmaker and cabinet minister Benny Begin, son of the party’s iconic founder and former prime minister Menachem Begin, announced on Thursday that he was joining Gideon Sa’ar’s rival New Hope party ahead of the March elections.
Begin, who served 18 combined years as a Likud MK and was long considered a close confidant and ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, announced in 2019 he would not vote for the party his father founded over his concerns about the premier’s ethics and the party’s inflammatory rhetoric.
“In recent years and especially in the last year, we have witnessed a strange and dangerous phenomenon. And it is from the government, of all places, that nasty, crude attacks are coming out against the central government institutions in the State of Israel, our state institutions,” Begin said in his Thursday statement. “This phenomenon needs to be stopped. The way to stop it is by replacing the government.”
Sa’ar welcomed the veteran former lawmaker to the party, saying he would bring valuable expertise to the slate.
“There is no need to introduce Benny Begin. [He] will be a very important addition to the campaign for the future of the country. It is important that Israel be able to enjoy his rich experience, his wisdom, his judgment and the values he represents,” Sa’ar said.
Begin was the latest in a number of high-profile names to join Sa’ar, a onetime Netanyahu protégé.
Dani Dayan, Israel’s former consul-general to New York and former chairman of the Yesha Council settlement umbrella group, has joined New Hope, as have Likud MKs Yifat Shasha-Biton, Ze’ev Elkin, Sharren Haskel and Michal Shir, who all broke from Netanyahu’s party to join Sa’ar. Derech Eretz MKs Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser, once members of the Blue and White party, also joined New Hope.
Begin has in the past made clear that he believed Netanyahu should resign over the corruption he is accused of, and has charged him with “attempting to assassinate the public’s trust in law enforcement institutions” with his attacks on legal and law enforcement officials involved in the investigations against him.
Sa’ar broke from Netanyahu’s Likud party last month to found his own party and challenge him for the premiership. Polls predict the party will be the second largest in the Knesset, with around 15 seats, trailing Likud’s 30 or so seats. Neither party has a clear path to a majority coalition in the 120-seat Knesset.
Sa’ar entered Israeli politics in 1999 as cabinet secretary during Netanyahu’s first term. He held key senior cabinet posts after Netanyahu returned to power in 2009. But as with many other fast-rising Likud figures, he eventually had a falling out with Netanyahu. Sa’ar took a break from politics in 2014 and returned in 2019, but never seemed to repair his ties with Netanyahu. Later that year, Netanyahu trounced him in a party leadership vote, confining Sa’ar to the backbenches.
Since bolting Likud and launching New Hope last month, Sa’ar has made no secret that their battle is personal. In his inaugural speech, he accused Netanyahu of creating a “cult of personality” — a term he has repeated to describe those who blindly support Netanyahu’s claims that his corruption trial is a conspiracy.
New elections, the fourth since April 2019, were called last month after the power-sharing government of Likud and Blue and White failed to agree on a budget by a December 23 deadline.