Promising to pursue Netanyahu, libertarian rebel MK Avidar announces own party

Launching Israel Free’s campaign, former Yisrael Beytenu minister blasts ex-allies for not legislating to stop Likud chief retaking power, vows to fight for freedoms, against graft

Eli Avidar attends a protest against Benjamin Netanyahu  in Jerusalem on August 22, 2020. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Eli Avidar attends a protest against Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on August 22, 2020. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Former Yisrael Beytenu MK Eli Avidar rolled out a new libertarian party Tuesday, promising to use his Israel Free (“Israel Hofsheet”) faction to pursue criminal justice reforms that will make it impossible for someone under indictment to serve as prime minister.

Avidar, who rose to relative prominence for his active role in the 2020-2021 anti-corruption protests against then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, split with the government and his former party in February, and blasted his erstwhile allies Tuesday for failing to pass a law to block Netanyahu from retaking power.

“It’s time for an ‘Israel Free’ from dictators, corruption, coercion, fear, incitement, racism, bullying, exploitation and from organized crime and irresolute politicians who blur their stances in order to run into Netanyahu’s arms at the moment of truth,” Avidar wrote in a statement announcing the formation of the new party.

Although he has been teasing an independent run for months, Avidar joins the November 1 Knesset race after a tumultuous year in politics. First entering the Knesset with the right-wing secularist Yisrael Beytenu in 2019, Avidar pulled away from the party after not being given a ministerial post when the current, outgoing government was initially formed in June 2021.

He was later coaxed back into the coalition with a ministerial post in the Prime Minister’s Office, which he also later discarded as lacking influence.

Having campaigned aggressively against corruption and wasteful spending, Avidar took significant heat for agreeing to sit in an already-inflated government.

Yisrael Beytenu members Alex Kushnir (left), Eli Avidar (center) and party leader Avigdor Liberman at an Israel Independence Day picnic, May 10, 2019. (Facebook)

He did not signal a specific political direction for his new party, but indicated it would push libertarian values.

“The party will advance Criminal Defendant bills, governance reform, a new contract with the citizen, ethics, and will fight for the right of every citizen to self-actualize with respect and life how they see fit,” he wrote.

The lawmaker has been a passionate advocate of personal liberties and 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.

Yisrael Beytenu MK Eli Avidar at the Knesset on June 21, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

He initially refused to receive a COVID-19 vaccination and railed against policymakers for “pressuring” citizens to inoculate. He only acknowledged he’d been vaccinated days before he was sworn into the cabinet.

One of his main Knesset initiatives was the so-called Criminal Defendant Bill, which would have blocked politicians under indictment from forming a government. However, the initiative and others also seemingly aimed at banishing Netanyahu from the political scene stalled without full coalition support.

“All those who refused to pass the Criminal Defendant Bill caused the overthrow of the ‘change government’ and continued the Netanyahu government policy of trampling on civil rights,” Avidar wrote Tuesday.

Then-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)

He said politicians who did not back the initiatives would “pay for it at the ballot box.”

“It’s time for Israel to be free of Netanyahu and for any criminally indicted individual to not be able to form a government,” he wrote in the statement.

Avidar will face a crowded field of other parties vying for Israelis’ votes in the upcoming election, and may attempt to merge his faction with a like-minded party if polls show him falling below the 4-seat threshold.

The party did not list any other members, but said it would do so at a later date. Party slates must be finalized and submitted by September 15.

Avidar’s plans for the new party were first reported in March. At the time, former prime minister Ehud Barak was said to be involved in the initiative, though an Israel Free spokesperson said Tuesday that Barak was not a part of the nascent faction.

File: Vegan Friendly founder and CEO Omri Paz, left, with Yisrael Beytenu MK Eli Avidar in 2019. (Courtesy/Zman Yisrael)

The party faced its first challenge straight out of the gate from the head of an NGO with the same name in Hebrew which works toward the separation of religion and state.

“All due respect to MK Avidar and passing political trends, but there’s only one Israel Hofsheet (Israel Free). We will use any legal means to prevent him from using the name of the organization for political needs,” Executive Director Uri Keidar said.

A spokesperson for the faction responded that there were no plans to change its name.

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