Prime minister 'crossed a red line,' says Sa'ar

Shouting ‘traitor,’ Netanyahu supporters attack Sa’ar event with rocks, eggs

New Hope chief blames premier for violence at campaign meeting; party increases security detail for leader following incident

Supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are watched by police officers outside an event for Gideon Sa'ar's New Hope party, March 13, 2020 Screen grab/Channel 13)
Supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are watched by police officers outside an event for Gideon Sa'ar's New Hope party, March 13, 2020 Screen grab/Channel 13)

New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar said on Saturday that a campaign event held by his party was attacked by supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The attackers threw objects, including stones and eggs, at the New Hope party meeting in Azaria in central Israel.

The intruders also interfered with the meeting’s audio system and shouted that Sa’ar was a “traitor.” Sa’ar split from Netanyahu’s Likud party to form New Hope last year.

One person was injured, became unconscious and was evacuated from the scene, Sa’ar wrote on Facebook.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Gideon Sa’ar at a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset, Nov. 21, 2005. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Sa’ar blamed Netanyahu for the violence and reiterated his campaign pledge to oust Netanyahu from office in the upcoming elections on March 23.

“Netanyahu has completely lost it. Bibi, I’m not afraid of you! In another ten days I’ll replace you,” Sa’ar wrote on Facebook, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname.

“Netanyahu crossed a red line,” Sa’ar said.

Sa’ar shared video that showed people carrying Likud flags, arguing with his supporters and calling him a traitor, apparently outside the Saturday meeting.

Following the incident, the New Hope party increased Sa’ar’s security detail, pointing to the apparently planned nature of the disturbance, Army Radio reported Sunday. Up until now, Sa’ar has had one privately hired bodyguard with him most of the time, the report said.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid party “strongly condemned” the attack.

“The violence of Netanyahu’s people is breaking records and his silence is deafening,” Lapid said.

Netanyahu has not yet commented on the alleged attack, which happened late at night on Saturday.

Netanyahu has in the past been accused of inciting against his political opponents and the justice system. He has similarly accused his detractors of threatening himself and his family.

The premier has repeatedly accused Sa’ar, as well as Yamina party chief Naftali Bennett, of planning to form a coalition with the left after the March 23 elections.

Earlier this month Netanyahu was accused of sexism and racism toward former Likud MK and current New Hope No. 2 candidate Yifat Shasha-Biton, after he referred to her with a disparaging nickname, while appearing to suggest she was to blame for Israel’s coronavirus deaths.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a ceremony for a new neighborhood in the northern town of Harish, on March 9, 2021. (Flash90)

Sa’ar was long seen as Netanyahu’s chief rival within Likud before he broke ranks to form New Hope in December.

He was initially seen as a leading challenger to Netanyahu from the right but support for New Hope has plummeted in recent weeks.

New Hope polled as high as 21 seats after it was formed, but has steadily shed support, with recent polls predicting it will win around 10 seats in the election, trailing Bennett’s right-wing Yamina faction.

New Hope, Yamina, and Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu and Netanyahu’s Likud are all battling for votes on the right, along with the smaller, further right Religious Zionism faction headed by Bezalel Smotrich.

Sa’ar has vowed not to serve in a coalition under Netanyahu, unlike his rival Bennett, who has not ruled out cooperating with the premier, or his opponents.

Surveys have generally predicted political deadlock after the election, with neither the pro- or anti-Netanyahu blocs having a clear path to assembling a majority coalition.

The upcoming elections — the fourth in two years — were called after the power-sharing government of Likud and Blue and White failed to agree on a budget by a December 23 deadline.

The election, like the previous three votes, is largely seen as a referendum on Netanyahu’s rule amid his ongoing trial on corruption charges, as well as his government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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