Gideon Sa’ar is preferred heir to Netanyahu, especially among non-Likud voters

Ex-interior minister ranks first among potential successors to party leader despite taking fourth place in primaries, and accusations by PM

Former minister Gideon Sa'ar at the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference held at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Jerusalem, November 21, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Former minister Gideon Sa'ar at the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference held at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Jerusalem, November 21, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Despite fierce recent attacks against him by the premier himself, former Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar is seen as the preferred candidate to lead the Likud party after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to a poll released Thursday.

Sa’ar, a former interior minister who took the fourth spot on the party’s Knesset slate in Tuesday’s primaries, won support from both Likud voters and the general public in the poll published by the Walla news site. The poll asked respondents to choose their preferred candidate to lead Likud, after Netanyahu, from among the top five vote-getters in the primaries.

Among the general public, 33 percent favored Sa’ar to lead the party after Netanyahu, with 19 percent Likud voters giving him their backing.

Among the general public, Sa’ar led by a wide margin over Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who polled at seven percent, despite ranking first in the party’s primaries. Six percent of respondents from the general public favored Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Culture Minister Miri Regev won four percent each.

Among Likud voters, Erdan placed second with 12 percent of the vote, 11 percent chose Regev and 10 percent Katz. Edelstein, surprisingly, polled at only 5 percent.

The survey queried 1,009 respondents in a representative sample of Jewish and Arab Israelis, and took place after the results of the Likud primaries were made public. The margin of error was 3.3 percent, Walla said.

Likud supporters campaign for party members and candidates at the Tel Aviv Likud polling station on February 5, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

A separate survey published on Thursday by Channel 13 asked whether Netanyahu or Sa’ar were more fit to lead the country.

The results were almost tied among the general public, with 40% preferring Netanyahu and 39% favoring Sa’ar. However, among Likud voters a whopping 84% chose Netanyahu over Sa’ar who was supported by just 11%.

Final results for Likud’s primaries came in Wednesday evening, with Edelstein taking the top spot on the slate (behind Netanyahu, who was re-elected as party leader in a 2016 vote), followed by Katz, Erdan and then Sa’ar.

The results signaled something of a rebuke for Netanyahu by the party rank and file.

The prime minister had launched a frontal assault on Sa’ar’s candidacy after the former minister returned from a four-year hiatus from politics, accusing Sa’ar in a pre-vote video of plotting to replace him after the April 9 election.

After the preliminary results from the vote indicated Sa’ar had managed to reach one of the top five spots on the ticket, he issued a statement thanking Likud members for ignoring Netanyahu’s accusations.

“As a difficult and challenging campaign comes to an end, I want to thank Likud’s members for renewing their trust in me, especially after a four-year break from public life, and electing me anew to Likud’s leadership,” the statement said.

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