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Former Treasury official Zelekha launches party, says he aims to save economy

Ex-accountant general criticizes leaders’ financial policies, says he hopes to merge with other parties ahead of election

Israeli economist Yaron Zelekha seen at a press conference headed by leader of the Israeli Labor party Shelly Yachimovich (not seen), prior to the national Israeli elections. January 15, 2013. (Yossi Zeliger/FLASH90)
Israeli economist Yaron Zelekha seen at a press conference headed by leader of the Israeli Labor party Shelly Yachimovich (not seen), prior to the national Israeli elections. January 15, 2013. (Yossi Zeliger/FLASH90)

A former accountant general in the Finance Ministry became the latest public figure to announce the establishment of a new party to run in the upcoming elections, saying Wednesday that he was entering politics in order to “save Israel from economic destruction.”

In a statement declaring the move, Yaron Zelekha, a vocal longtime critic of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies, tore into the economic conduct of Israel’s leadership during the coronavirus pandemic, with lockdowns causing hundreds of thousands to lose their livelihoods and thousands of businesses to close.

“I announce the establishment of a new party, the Economic Party,” he said in the statement, saying he would seek to become finance minister in the next government “to march Israel into a period of prosperity.”

“I know what it takes to rescue Israel from the economic crisis toward which it is heading,” Zelekha added. “I have done this before and I will do it again. I know how to lower the cost of living along with housing prices.”

“My goal is to save Israel from economic destruction,” said Zelekha, who serves as director of the accounting studies program at the Ono Academic College. “Our financial leadership must change.”

Zelekha has been critical of the Netanyahu government’s handling of the economic crisis for months, telling The Times of Israel last April that the state would pay a heavy price for its “stingy” policies. Each business that goes under because it did not get a government-backed loan “will stop paying taxes forever and its workers will be made unemployed and they will need unemployment benefits,” he said.

Attacks over the pandemic-spurred financial crisis has already become a major part of the campaign ahead of the March 23 vote, with several parties across the political spectrum vowing to make it their top priority. Zelekha will ostensibly be competing with Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman who also said that he wants to serve as Israel’s next finance minister.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, left, and Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, December 29, 2020. (Screenshot: YouTube)

While Zelekha, who served as accountant general from 2003 to 2007, will be establishing his own party, Hebrew media reported that he is prepared to join forces with other parties. He is known for his close ties with outgoing Blue and White Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, who on Tuesday announced that he was joining the new center-left party founded by Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai.

As Zelekha was throwing his hat into the ring, former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot informed various party leaders pursuing him that he had decided not to run in the upcoming Knesset elections.

While Eisenkot is eligible to be elected to the Knesset, he is barred from serving as a minister until 2022, due to legislation requiring a “cooling off” period for former senior officials.

The retired general was one of the most sought-after figures this election cycle and his name was linked in reports to several parties, including Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope, Yesh Atid, Telem, New Right and Huldai’s new party, The Israelis.

Gadi Eisenkot, left, and Benny Gantz are seen at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, February 16, 2015, as the former prepared to take over from the latter as IDF chief of staff. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Eisenkot’s decision to stay on the sidelines came as parties worked to put together their electoral slates before an early February deadline to finalize their candidates for the March 23 elections.

Also Wednesday, Blue and White Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi told party chairman Benny Gantz that he was leaving Blue and White and didn’t intend to run in the elections.

Blue and White has seen an exodus of lawmakers since the Knesset dissolved, as the party flails in the polls and Gantz faces questions over his leadership.

Along with Nissenkorn, MK Michal Cotler-Wunsh said Tuesday she would not run as a candidate for Blue and White in the elections. On Sunday, Gantz informed MKs Asaf Zamir and Miki Haimovich that they will not be included on the party’s electoral slate due to their decision to vote against extending the state budget deadline last week, ultimately causing the fall of the government. Science and Technology Minister Izhar Shay has also decided to leave, according to Channel 12 news.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz speaks at a press conference, December 29, 2020. (Elad Malka/Blue and White)

While Gantz campaigned on the promise that he would not serve in a government with Netanyahu so long as the prime minister faces corruption charges, he agreed to do just that in late March, and formed a unity government with Netanyahu in May. Furious, Yesh Atid-Telem broke away from Blue and White and went into the opposition.

Netanyahu and Gantz reached an agreement that was supposed to see Gantz replace Netanyahu as prime minister in November 2021, but a loophole in the agreement saw the coalition collapse due to Netanyahu’s refusal to pass an annual budget.

Israel is consequently now gearing up for a fourth election after the Knesset dissolved last week.

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