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Number the Sa’ars: 9 things to know for December 17

Gideon Sa’ar’s coming-out party generates a decent amount of buzz, though the math still doesn’t quite show him beating Netanyahu for Likud glory just yet

Likud MK Gideon Sa'ar launches his campaign for the upcoming primaries for the Likud chairman ahead of the Knesset elections, in Or Yehuda, December 16, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Likud MK Gideon Sa'ar launches his campaign for the upcoming primaries for the Likud chairman ahead of the Knesset elections, in Or Yehuda, December 16, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

1. Surgin’ Sa’ar: Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar kicked off his longshot bid for the leadership of the party Monday, telling a group of about 1,000 supporters that Netanyahu has no way to form a government, so he is the leader they need to save the right.

  • The kickoff put Sa’ar on the front page of Israel’s major dailies Tuesday morning and earned him a modicum of media coverage during the event, with the former minister being presented as the most serious challenger to Netanyahu in quite a while.
  • Haaretz notes the praise heaped on Netanyahu by Sa’ar, who called him one of the greats of the party but added that “anyone who has eyes in his head knows he cannot form a government.”
  • Reports differ on the crowd size, with some estimating 500 and some going with the event emcee who declared that 1,000 people were there.
  • The Associated Press calls Sa’ar “Surging,” and Channel 12’s Yaron Avraham writes that “it seems Sa’ar has actually gotten some momentum,” predicting he’ll close the gap after internal polling showed Netanyahu with a 75% to 25% lead. (The polling data, which is offered as an aside and unsourced, is dubious at best, since actual surveys rarely come out with figures that clean and not a single undecided.)

2. Sa’ar-studded: Looking around the room, Globes takes stock of all the big names there and comes up with a less than star-studded list of “Yoav Kisch, Haim Katz, Michal Shir, and Itai Atia. Also there were former MKs Yehuda Glick, Yehiel Hazan and Norit Koren.”

  • Not spotted but perhaps on the slowly growing list of Sa’ar supporters is Likud royalty Benny Begin, who tells Army Radio that Netanyahu should resign.
  • On the other side, Kan reports that Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein is secretly backing Netanyahu, sending his underlings out to campaign for the incumbent while keeping mum himself.
  • And another Katz, Foreign Minister Israel Katz, tells Ynet that Sa’ar is a “balloon that will pop next week.”

3. Having a dog in the fight: Yedioth Ahronoth writes that Sa’ar was greeted with chants of “Gideon Sa’ar King of Israel,” but “it won’t be easy to beat the prime minister and get a primary upset.”

  • The paper, though, is seemingly doing what it can to help, running a picture of a smiling Sa’ar being mobbed and glad-handing supporters, alongside a smaller blurry one of people putting their hands on an annoyed-looking Netanyahu.
  • “Something has happened in the last few days. Sa’ar has enlisted the support of mayors and local party heads, five MKs have lined up alongside him,” the paper’s Yuval Karni writes, adding that those who are lining up are doing even though they have nothing to gain and everything to lose. (That would change, of course, should Sa’ar pull off the win.)
  • Haaretz’s Joshua Breiner writes that the only sour moment of the event was the 20-odd pro-Netanyahu protesters outside the hall, though he calls them a “sideshow compared to the warm embrace inside.”
  • “The message was unified: Netanyahu cannot form a government, Sa’ar can.”
  • For Netanyahu-backing Israel Hayom, those protesters were one of the main events, and it plays up the fact some managed to make it inside before being kicked out and leaves out the relatively small number of that crowd.
  • While other papers place Sa’ar fairly prominently on their front pages, the campaign gets only a small box on the bottom of Israel’s Hayom’s A1 as a near afterthought under a quote from Netanyahu saying “We will win.”

4. Purge the ‘leftists’: Indeed Netanyahu is predicted to handily defeat Sa’ar despite what appears to be an embrace from anti-Netanyahu corners of the media.

  • According to Sa’ar supporters, he’ll also be helped by funny business from the party’s bureaucrats, who have seemingly been purging the party’s rolls of anti-Netanyahu members.
  • The drive appears to be centered on the Likudnikim Hahadashim (New Likudniks), a group set up several years ago to create a more robust anti-Netanyahu flank within the faction.
  • Channel 12 reports that among those kicked out of the party pending appeal were MKs Shir and Sharren Haskel, neither of whom are connected with the group but both of whom support Sa’ar.
  • Israel Hayom reports that Kisch tweeted out that “it seems Metzudat Zeev [Likud HQ] decided there are no rules, everything is allowed and there is no democracy. They decided who can vote,” but later deleted it and tweeted out a more moderate statement allowing for the possibility that it was a mistake.
  • Speaking to Army Radio, New Likudniks organizer Nir Hirshman is less diplomatic: “This behavior by Likud management is corrupt. If this is true and they are purging the rolls of many members, this is an attempt to steal the primaries.”
  • Globes reporter Tal Schneider also joins in on the criticism, calling Likud’s moves “a total scam.”
  • Kikar Hashabbat, doing little to hide its feelings as well, writes that those being removed “have been proven in the past to be outspoken leftists, who have lined up behind Gideon Sa’ar.”
  • Wouldn’tcha know it, the same conspiracy theory is tweeted by the prime ministerial dauphin Yair Netanyahu, who claims New Likudnik members are Meretz and Labor “Trojan horses.”

5. Bibi 2.0: Sa’ar appears to be trying to overcome those difficulties by borrowing some of Netanyahu’s own tricks. On Tuesday, the party’s internal court is expected to decide on Sa’ar’s demand to have cameras placed in polling stations  to stop any voter fraud, which is a whole lot like Netanyahu’s own camera drive in the last campaign, Walla news reports.

  • “The petition quotes Netanyahu himself on the need for cameras to keep the election’s unsullied,” writes Walla’s Tal Shalev.
  • Some have also noted that Sa’ar slogan “Only Sa’ar Can” borrows directly from the Likud’s popular 1988 slogan “Only Likud Can,” which has since become indelibly associated with Netanyahu (you can see him as a bit player 1:32 into this ad).

6. There are other parties running in the upcoming election too, it seems: One of those is Meretz, which decided Monday to cancel its primary, and is looking at downgrading its relationship with Democratic Camp joinees Stav Shaffir and Yair Golan.

  • “It’s not clear that there is any electoral justification to have Shaffir at No. 2 and Golan at No. 3,” a Meretz source is quoted telling Haaretz regarding the former protest leader and ex-IDF deputy chief. “In the last round, [Ehud] Barak was the big name. Now Barak is not in the picture, and we need to see what value Shaffir and Golan bring.”
  • Zman Yisrael’s Nati Yefet writes of Shaffir, “In the best case scenario, if she gets put in fifth or sixth place in the new Democratic Camp list, a period of tensions for her will last until the night of March 2, when she finds out that despite her popularity on the left, she will be forced to leave the Knesset after seven years.”
  • “Golan won’t even get that. His chances of returning after these elections are slim and he will have to make do with leaving the Knesset after this lightning session or running again in the future,” he adds.
  • Meanwhile, Shaffir’s old haunt Labor (now merged with Gesher) announces that it will not be holding a primary and will be sticking with Amir Peretz as its leader.
  • Channel 13 notes that Labor is still not ruling out a merger with Meretz, though both sides want to wait to see if polls show them both passing the threshold without linking up first.
  • After Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid dropped his demand for a rotation with party head Benny Gantz, Likud lost one of its main talking points, but it seems to still be looking for ways to elevate Lapid. On Tuesday, it reports that Lapid will run the “ground” operations instead of Gabi Ashkenazi.
  • “After he gave up on the rotation, all that’s left for him is the strong ground campaign he built himself over eight years as Yesh Atid head,” the paper quotes a party source saying.

7. Right turn: On the other side of the aisle, an ad for New Right featuring only Naftali Bennett and not Ayelet Shaked has generated some buzz and a lot of head-scratching.

  • Walla reports that Shaked has not yet decided on whether she will return to the party, which will seemingly be run again by Bennett, who led the pair straight out of the Knesset in April. This time, though, they are looking to steal seats not from Likud but from Yisrael Beytenu and Blue and White supporters who fear the parties have moved too far to the left.
  • In Israel Hayom, Mati Tuchfeld writes that the right-wing bloc of which New Right is a member is sticking together, even if polls shows it sinking like a rock: “Netanyahu and the members of the right-wing bloc know they are facing an uphill battle. The polls are downright ominous, predicting, at best, no decisive victory. Perhaps that is why the bloc’s members are clinging to each other as if they were drowning. Whatever the reason, the voters have to remember that the right-wing bloc is as solid as a rock.”

8. Order on the border? A report from the Central Bureau of Statistics Monday found that not a single African asylum seeker entered the country in 2018, and 2,700 left, leaving some 29,000 living in the country.

  • Most news reports don’t focus on the asylum seekers, which gets buried under the news that 2019 saw a sharp increase in immigration numbers.
  • Nonetheless, Netanyahu mentioned the fact that he stemmed the flow of “infiltrators” at his own campaign event Monday night.
  • Haaretz, which appears to be the only Israeli newspaper to send someone to the UN’s global refugee summit in Geneva, dedicates its lead editorial to urging Jerusalem to deal with absorbing refugees as part of a UN outline it previously reneged on.
  • “Israel must decide: Will it persist in its cruel and illogical policy, led by the Population and Immigration Authority, and incarcerate blameless men, women and children, deporting people to countries in which they are at risk, or will it join the list of countries that do not view asylum seekers as enemies, treating them responsibly while expressing solidarity,” the editorial reads.
  • Writing for the same paper, Amor Harel writes that the Egypt border where many of the asylum seekers would come through remains a concern for Israel, since on the other side there is an offshoot of Islamic State that has seemingly managed to hang on despite the group’s losses elsewhere.
  • “Wilayat Sinai has adapted remarkably well to the new situation and continues to function and operate,” he writes.
  • “Over the past two years Wilayat Sinai has avoided attacks on Israeli territory. The last such attack was in October 2017, when rockets were fired from Sinai into Israel. Nevertheless, the defense establishment is concerned there could be attempts at a showcase attack along the Egyptian border – an attack on an Israel Defense Forces position, the abduction of soldiers or a combination of the two,” Harel adds.

9. Axes of evil: And here’s some bric-a-brac for your reading pleasure:

  • In Mosaic, Martin Kramer attempts to verify the myth that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was born in Room 16 of the American Colony Hotel. Spoiler alert: It wasn’t (according to him).
  • ToI’s Amanda Borschel-Dan gives a taste of a find near Ashkelon which uncovered some ancient fish sauce, a Roman delicacy from back in the day.
  • Julie Gruenbaum Fax writes in the Forward about how the recent ransacking of a Beverly Hills synagogue was terrible, but may not be a hate crime.
  • Hate crime or not, Jews in New York and New Jersey are taking ax-flinging lessons for self defense to ensure they are not put on the chopping block, The New York Post’s Doree Lewack reports.
  • Christine Beresniova has her own ax to grind, about the way converts to Judaism are treated, from insulting questions to unfair pressure to fit in, she writes in Tablet.

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