Maverick Yisrael Beytenu MK plans to form new, center-right party

A month after cabinet resignation and with blessing of ex-PM Barak, Eli Avidar will hold gathering of supporters at his home and make pitch for new faction to run in next election

Eli Avidar speaks at a press conference at the Knesset, February 22, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Eli Avidar speaks at a press conference at the Knesset, February 22, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Maverick MK Eli Avidar will form a new, center-right party that will run in the next election, The Times of Israel’s sister-site Zman Yisrael has learned.

Avidar will host a gathering of dozens of supporters at his home in the central town of Shoresh on Tuesday.

“We are not setting up a formal organization, but if there are early elections no one will catch us unprepared,” he told Zman on Thursday.

The effort comes roughly a month after Avidar announced that he was resigning from the cabinet and returning to the Knesset where he would effectively act as an independent lawmaker. He technically remains with the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu coalition party, but has all but severed his ties with the faction and its leader Avigdor Liberman.

Relations soured after Liberman passed on tapping Avidar for a senior ministerial post when the government was formed last June. If Avidar intensifies his political activity, he risks Liberman taking a decision to formally declare him as a “rebel,” which would subject him to sanctions and bar him from joining any party currently represented in the Knesset in the next election.

The lawmaker, who rose to relative prominence for his active role in the anti-corruption protests against then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was appointed to serve as a minister-without-portfolio in the Prime Minister’s Office under the new government. Having campaigned aggressively against corruption and wasteful spending, Avidar took significant heat for agreeing to sit in an already-inflated government. The criticism appeared to lead to his decision to resign, as he said the job lacked real influence in the government’s policy-making.

In his resignation announcement, Avidar blasted Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his Yamina party partner, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, saying they would not honor the rotation agreement that is supposed to see Foreign Minister Yair Lapid take over as premier in August of next year.

Avidar has been a passionate advocate of personal liberties and has criticized the government he sat in for six months for following in the footsteps of the previous leadership in imposing far-reaching pandemic rules curtailing personal freedoms.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (R) and Yisrael Beytenu MK Eli Avidar attend a plenum session in the Knesset, on July 12, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Sources familiar with the matter told Zman that former prime minister Ehud Barak has been involved in Avidar’s initiative and is supportive of it as well.

Avidar will be the keynote speaker at Tuesday’s event and will map out the current political reality in Israel, and argue that there is space for a new center-right party that fights against corruption, defends liberal values and protects personal liberties, the sources said.

He will say that longtime Likud voters are looking for a new political home as the party has gone further and further to the right and can no longer differentiate itself from the far-right Religious Zionism party, the sources added.

Avidar also believes that his new party will be able to attract Arab voters. Avidar, who speaks fluent Arabic, has noted that tens of thousands of Arab Israelis do not vote in elections and believes they are looking for a party to represent them.

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