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Netanyahu rival Sa’ar hires anti-Trump Lincoln Project founders

Source close to prime-ministerial hopeful’s election effort says leaders of GOP group, which campaigned against US president on moral grounds, likely to come to Israel

Gideon Sa'ar seen during a visit to Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center in Jerusalem on December 16, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
Gideon Sa'ar seen during a visit to Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center in Jerusalem on December 16, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Israel’s top rival to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is getting some American help ahead of March 23 elections.

Gideon Sa’ar, a onetime Netanyahu protege, has hired four of the founders of the Lincoln Project, which ran a relentless campaign to help defeat US President Donald Trump.

The hiring was first reported by Israel’s Channel 12 TV and confirmed by a member of Sa’ar’s campaign. The campaign official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing internal strategy.

Lincoln Project founders Steve Schmidt, Rick Wilson, Stuart Stevens, and Reed Galen were among the leaders of the effort to draw Republicans from Trump’s reelection effort centered on the president’s ethics and moral leadership.

A source close to the campaign said the four were likely to visit Israel when possible.

The Lincoln Project’s stated mission is to hold public leaders “accountable.”

That is similar to Sa’ar’s message as the head of the New Hope party, the faction he founded when he broke away from Likud.

An Orthodox man walks past an election poster in Jerusalem for the ruling Likud party showing US President Donald Trump (L) shaking hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, September 16, 2019. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

He accuses Netanyahu of turning the Likud into a tool for personal survival at a time when he is on trial on corruption charges.

In an interview Saturday, Sa’ar said Likud could be “a partner” in the government he hopes to form after the upcoming election, but that Netanyahu would not be able to serve as a minister in it, due to the criminal indictment against him.

Sa’ar, 54, entered Israeli politics in 1999 as cabinet secretary during Netanyahu’s first term. He held key senior cabinet posts after Netanyahu returned to power in 2009.

But as with many other fast-rising Likud figures, he eventually had a falling out with Netanyahu. Sa’ar took a break from politics in 2014 to spend time with his new wife, TV anchor Geula Even, and their children.

He returned in 2019 but never seemed to repair his ties with Netanyahu. Later that year, Netanyahu trounced him in a party leadership vote, confining Sa’ar to the backbenches.

Since bolting Likud and launching New Hope last month, Sa’ar has made no secret that their battle is personal. In his inaugural speech, he accused Netanyahu of creating a “cult of personality” — a term he repeated Thursday to describe those who blindly support Netanyahu’s claims that his corruption trial is a conspiracy.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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