Netanyahu rival Sa’ar picks up endorsement from second Likud MK

Claiming that PM will not be able to form coalition, Yoav Kisch says he’s backing rival ‘out of a deep commitment to the Israeli right’

Raoul Wootliff is the Times of Israel's former political correspondent and producer of the Daily Briefing podcast.

Likud MK Gideon Saar (L) embracing MK Yoav Kisch at a party conference in Ramat Gan, March 4, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Likud MK Gideon Saar (L) embracing MK Yoav Kisch at a party conference in Ramat Gan, March 4, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Likud MK Yoav Kisch declared his support Saturday for Benjamin Netanyahu’s party rival MK Gideon Sa’ar ahead of a party leadership primary.

Kisch has been one of the few Likud lawmakers speaking out against the prime minister and in support of a leadership challenge, though he had declined to say whom he would back until Saturday.

“We see that Netanyahu, with all my love for him, is unable to form a government,” Kisch told Channel 12’s ‘Meet the Press.’

“The only one who can get us out of this situation is Gideon Sa’ar,” he said, becoming the second Likud MK to publicly endorse the former minister.

“It does not come from a place of not loving Netanyahu, but from having to  protect the right,” Kisch insisted. He later wrote in a Facebook post that under Netanyahu’s leadership of the Likud, “right-wing rule is in danger.”

MK Yoav Kisch (Likud), chairman of the Interior Affairs Committee at the Knesset, on January 29, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Despite the support of smaller far-right and religious parties, Netanyahu has failed  to cobble together a right-wing or unity coalition after two successive tries. And with four days remaining until new elections are automatically called, main party rival Blue and White has insisted it will not enter a government headed by Netanyahu, who is facing criminal proceedings.

Amid the deadlock, Likud’s Central Committee is to meet Sunday to begin the process of planning and scheduling the party primary, officials said Wednesday, with Sa’ar expected to pose the first serious challenge to the premier’s stewardship of the party in 14 years.

Last month, Netanyahu agreed to a Likud leadership contest, but the primary will likely not take place until after the December 11 deadline to form a government.

Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar seen with Likud supporters during an event in the city of Hod Hasharon, November 25, 2019. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Sa’ar announced last month he would demand a primary race and would run to unseat the scandal-plagued Netanyahu. He has shied away from criticizing the prime minister over his legal troubles, but has argued instead that Netanyahu’s inability to decisively win the last two elections proved the party needed new blood at the top.

His bid has drawn broad support from a number of influential Likud mayors, including from the party’s rightist pro-settlement wing, while many of the party’s top officials, including Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, MK Avi Dichter and Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, have remained pointedly mum about who they would support.

Kisch joins former Sa’ar aide MK Michal Shir as the only Likud MKs to have publicly endorsed Sa’ar.

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