Gideon Sa’ar, the leading challenger to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the run-up to the March elections, accused his rival on Saturday of overseeing “a focused attack on all of the institutions of the state” and vowed to prevent in Israel the kind of assault on democracy witnessed in the US this week.
Sa’ar, a former Likud minister who quit the party a month ago to set up his own “New Hope” party ahead of the March 23 vote, said the mob invasion of the US Capitol on Wednesday “teaches us about the dangers of extremism” and the dangers of “claiming elections are being stolen before and after the vote. “People “draw conclusions that destabilize democracy,” Sa’ar told Channel 13 news. “It’s very dangerous.”
Meanwhile Yisrael Beytenu party chief Avigdor Liberman said the storming of the US Capitol by Trump supporters was “nothing” compared to what he claimed Netanyahu was planning if the premier feels he’s losing the coming elections.
“It’s clear he is preparing for a scenario that he loses. He’ll advance a plan exactly like what was in the US and even stronger,” Liberman told Channel 12, without offering evidence for the claim.
Sa’ar, asked if he was drawing parallels between the behavior of President Donald Trump and that of Netanyahu, said, “the behavior we saw there is deeply problematic… Here, we’ll ensure it doesn’t happen.”
Asked again if he was accusing Netanyahu — who claims he is being framed in his ongoing corruption trial, and who has claimed in the past that opponents are trying to steal elections from him — Sa’ar said: “I’m not drawing parallels. These things are serious enough on their own. Under Netanyahu’s rule there is a focused attack on all of the institutions of the state, from the president to the Israel Police, all the way to the Central Election Committee…
“We will not allow it,” he vowed. “We will insist that the democratic process and its results be respected in the State of Israel.”
Regarding the US president, Sa’ar said he appreciated the many things Trump has done for Israel, “but as a democrat, the behavior we saw there is deeply problematic.”
Sa’ar dismissed as “unfounded” the notion, touted by some Netanyahu loyalists, that there was any comparison between the mob invasion of the US Capitol and months of protests calling for Netanyahu to resign held outside the prime minister’s official residence and his home. He said a case last week when protesters allegedly breached a police barrier should be handled as is appropriate under the law.
He also castigated the “horror show” which saw Netanyahu’s Likud loyalist “puppets” accompany him to the opening day of his trial at Jerusalem District Court.
Sa’ar’s New Hope is polling at about 16 seat to 31 for Netanyahu’s Likud, making him a potent challenger to the veteran Israeli leader. In a poll on Friday, Netanyahu was cited as the preferred prime minister by 42% of respondents, compared to 36% for Sa’ar.
In his interview, Sa’ar directly blamed Netanyahu for dragging Israel to four elections inside two years, and castigated the government for failing to pass the 2020 state budget. “Netanyahu is responsible for the deterioration” in Israel, the lack of stability, and the lack of hope, he said. “I’m the only one who can beat Netanyahu,” he added, once again vowing not to sit in a coalition with him.
Sa’ar, like Netanyahu, has called to reform what many on the Israeli right see as Israel’s overly powerful judicial system. But he stressed that “I want to reform the legal apparatus — not to destroy it” — in an implied reference to Netanyahu’s actions. “He didn’t make those reforms for 15 years,” Sa’ar said, claiming Netanyahu was only pushing to rein in the judiciary now “because of his trial.”
He also deplored “personal attacks” on Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandblit, whom Netanyahu and his loyalists allege is overseeing an effort to oust him via a “political coup” with trumped-up charges in his trial.