In boost for Bennett, small business owners’ protest leader joins Yamina

Abir Kara of the ‘I am Shulman’ group says his ‘entire movement’ will back the right-wing party in March election; Itzik Shmuli rules out bid for Labor leadership

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

Abir Kara (Facebook)
Abir Kara (Facebook)

The head of an influential protest group representing independent business owners announced Tuesday that he will run in the upcoming elections as part of the right-wing Yamina party, potentially bolstering MK Naftali Bennett’s faction with the backing of the group’s tens of thousands of supporters.

Abir Kara, who leads the “I Am Shulman” group, said in a joint statement with Yamina that he would be joining the party’s electoral slate and lending his organization’s support to helping it succeed in the March election.

“We [have been] working for [self-employed] workers for a year and a half while the government has abandoned us,” Kara said of his group, which was formed in 2019 and has become a social media rallying point for the self-employed in Israel, who have long complained of unfair treatment by the government. Many of them have been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic.

“It is time to make big changes here and open the economy to free enterprise so that anyone who works hard and is enterprising can succeed,” Kara said.

“Today we continue the marathon, join the right and support Naftali for prime minister,” he said, claiming that “only Bennett really cares about the free economy and the self-employed.”

Bennett, welcoming Kara to the party, said the move proved that Yamina was “the home of the half a million self-employed and business owners in Israel, of everyone who struggles to run a business in our country.”

He said Yamina wanted “to make Israel a paradise for anyone who wants to initiate [a business], to spread a red carpet so that business owners can succeed.”

Yamina Party chairman Naftali Bennett at a press conference in Jerusalem, on May 14, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yamina is looking to expand the party’s appeal beyond religious voters, as part of leader Bennett’s declared run for prime minister.

Kara stressed that it was not just him joining Yamina but “the entire movement. We come as a family.” The “I Am Shulman” Facebook group currently has some 200,000 members.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu implored members of the group to back his Likud party during a Zoom meeting last week, video of which was leaked to Israeli television. According to Channel 12, the meeting took place after Kara rejected Netanyahu’s offer to join Likud.

Responding to Kara’s Tuesday announcement, Likud said in a statement that he “claimed to be fighting for the self-employed but today he decided to become an employee of someone who has done nothing for them.”

On the other side of the political spectrum, Welfare Minister Itzik Shmuli said Tuesday that he would not be running in the upcoming Labor leadership primaries and that he has decided to leave the center-left party.

“This isn’t an easy decision for me. This party is a home for me… It’s basic and binding values will continue to accompany me, but I’ll lead their implementation from another political place,” Shmuli wrote on Twitter.

He also called for an alliance of parties whose chief goal will be replacing Netanyahu.

Labor lawmakers Itzik Shmuli (L) and Merav Michaeli at a press conference in Tel Aviv, on March 12, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Shmuli previously ran in the Labor leadership primaries in July 2019, finishing third behind Amir Peretz and Stav Shaffir.

Peretz, the Knesset’s longest-serving member, announced he would step aside as a Labor leader and earlier this month said he won’t run in the upcoming elections.

There are currently two candidates for the Labor party leadership: MK Merav Michaeli, seen as the frontrunner, and attorney and party activist Gil Beilin.

Earlier this month, the Tel Aviv District Court ruled that Labor must hold primaries, despite a decision by Peretz to cancel them, in a win for Michaeli, who has pushed for the primaries.

Shmuli’s announcement came a day after former Labor prime minister Ehud Barak also said he wouldn’t run to lead the party, which ruled Israel during its first 30 years and remained a dominant force in the country’s politics until several years ago, but has lost virtually all of its support.

Recent opinion polls predict it will fail to enter the Knesset on its own.

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