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Likud activists scuffle with New Hope candidate during Jerusalem campaign tour

Knesset hopeful Ofer Berkovitch accosted as he walks through capital’s Mahane Yehuda market; party leader Sa’ar vows not to be intimidated after 2nd incident in as many days

Screen capture from video of a clash between Likud party activits and New Hope party Knesset candidate Ofer Berkovitch as he campaigned in Jerusalem's Mahane Yehudah market, March 15, 2021. (Twitter)
Screen capture from video of a clash between Likud party activits and New Hope party Knesset candidate Ofer Berkovitch as he campaigned in Jerusalem's Mahane Yehudah market, March 15, 2021. (Twitter)

A Knesset candidate for the New Hope Party was violently confronted by activists from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party as he campaigned in Jerusalem on Sunday.

The incident came the day after New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar accused Netanyahu supporters of disrupting a party event by throwing objects at participants, including stones and eggs.

New Hope’s Ofer Berkovitch was walking through the capital’s Mahane Yehuda market when his entourage was accosted by hecklers, among them well-known Likud activist Moshe Meron.

A video showed several people surrounding Berkovitch and shouting insults about Sa’ar. The confrontation became physical with pushing and shoving between the hecklers and Berkovitch’s companions.

There were no injuries in the incident.

Meron maintains a support tent outside Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem to counter weekly demonstrations calling for the premier to resign, Channel 12 news reported.

Sa’ar wrote on Twitter about the incident, accusing Netanyahu supporters of attacking Berkovitch.

“We are not afraid,” he said, repeating a remark he made after the Saturday incident.

Berkovitch tweeted that after touring the market “Likud activists arrived and tried to confront and attack us. We do not recoil from violence and bullying!”

The confrontation with Berkovitch came a day after one person was injured when Likud supporters attacked a New Hope campaign event.

Sa’ar shared video that showed people carrying Likud flags, arguing with his supporters and calling him a traitor, apparently outside the Saturday meeting.

Following the incident, the New Hope party increased Sa’ar’s security detail, pointing to the apparently planned nature of the disturbance, Army Radio reported Sunday. Up until now, Sa’ar has had one privately hired bodyguard with him most of the time, the report said.

Sa’ar blamed Netanyahu for the violence and reiterated his campaign pledge to oust Netanyahu from office in the upcoming elections on March 23.

“Netanyahu has completely lost it. Bibi, I’m not afraid of you! In another ten days I’ll replace you,” Sa’ar wrote on Facebook, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname.

“Netanyahu crossed a red line,” Sa’ar said.

Netanyahu has in the past been accused of inciting against his political opponents and the justice system. He has similarly accused his detractors of threatening himself and his family.

The premier has repeatedly accused Sa’ar, as well as Yamina party chief Naftali Bennett, of planning to form a coalition with the left after the March 23 elections.

Sa’ar was long seen as Netanyahu’s chief rival within Likud before he broke ranks to form New Hope in December.

He was initially seen as a leading challenger to Netanyahu from the right but support for New Hope has plummeted in recent weeks.

New Hope polled as high as 21 seats after it was formed, but has steadily shed support, with recent polls predicting it will win around 9 seats in the election, trailing Bennett’s right-wing Yamina faction.

Gideon Sa’ar, head of the New Hope political party speaks during a Channel 12 News conference in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021. Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Sa’ar has vowed not to serve in a coalition under Netanyahu, unlike his rival Bennett, who has not ruled out cooperating with the premier, or his opponents.

Surveys have generally predicted political deadlock after the election, with neither the pro- or anti-Netanyahu blocs having a clear path to assembling a majority coalition.

The upcoming elections — the fourth in two years — were called after the power-sharing government of Likud and Blue and White failed to agree on a budget by a December 23 deadline.

The election, like the previous three votes, is largely seen as a referendum on Netanyahu’s rule amid his ongoing trial on corruption charges, as well as his government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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