Meretz MK says party would join Sa’ar coalition if it meant ousting Netanyahu

Yair Golan says leftist faction is prepared to help right-wing challenger become PM; doesn’t rule out Bennett or Liberman either

Meretz MK Yair Golan speaks during a plenary session in the Knesset, Jerusalem on August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)
Meretz MK Yair Golan speaks during a plenary session in the Knesset, Jerusalem on August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)

Opposition MK Yair Golan of Meretz said Thursday that his left-wing party is prepared to back right-wing challenger Gideon Sa’ar as prime minister in the approaching elections, and join a coalition headed by Sa’ar, if it means ousting incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu.

Sa’ar, a former member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, in December set up his own right-wing party, New Hope, in order to directly campaign for the premiership.

Speaking to Kan public radio, Golan was asked if Meretz would back the formation of a government headed by Sa’ar, who is considered staunchly right-wing on many issues, in particular Israel’s West Bank settlements, opposed by Meretz.

“Yes,” he responded to the notion of supporting a Sa’ar-led government. “Unequivocally yes. The first thing to do is to eradicate corruption from among us. Corruption is what is destroying the country, and Netanyahu is undoubtedly a fundamentally corrupt person.”

“We will sit in any government” that is able to restore “the State of Israel to its basic human values,” Golan said.

Netanyahu is on trial in three corruption cases that entail charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. The prime minister denies any wrongdoing.

Sa’ar’s New Hope slate, submitted to election officials Wednesday, is heavy with ex-Likud lawmakers.

Gideon Sa’ar at party headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel, January 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Golan was more reserved when faced with the suggestion of a government headed by either MK Naftali Bennett, who leads the religious-nationalist Yamina party, or MK Avigdor Liberman, head of the secular but hawkish Yisrael Beytenu.

Though the three parties have deep differences on some issues, they share a declared common goal of defeating Netanyahu in the March 23 elections.

“First we need to fight corruption and safeguard democracy,” Golan said. “After that, we will be happy to apply the rest of our values.”

He also discounted the idea of Meretz running on a joint slate with the left-wing Labor party, saying that since its new leader, Merav Michaeli, took over, the party has shown a “cold shoulder” to Meretz.

“Unifications should be discussed after the elections, not before the elections,” Golan said and expressed confidence that Meretz will pass the threshold for entry into the Knesset.

Following the interview, a senior Meretz source told Haaretz that the party will not recommend Netanyahu, Sa’ar, or Bennett as prime minister and that Golan was only speaking hypothetically. The source was referring to the formal process after an election in which leaders of each Knesset party convey their recommendation to President Reuven Rivlin as to who should be given the chance to be prime minister and form a government.

According to the report, Labor and Meretz plan to run diverging campaigns to avoid vying for the same voters and possibly driving Meretz under the threshold.

Meretz, led by MK Nitzan Horowitz, will campaign to the far-left on matters of religion and state, aiming to also draw voters from the Arab Israeli population as it did in the last election.

Labor will aim more at the center-left of the political map, the report said.

A total of 18 parties submitted their slates of candidates Wednesday, as a number of major parties finally ruled out further mergers with others, and several small ones quit the race.

The slates can be submitted to the Central Elections Committee until Thursday at midnight. Any party that has submitted its slate cannot change it.

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