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Sharren Haskel is latest Likud MK to defect to Sa’ar’s new party

Announcing her resignation from Knesset, New Hope’s latest recruit says ‘my conscience does not allow me to continue to support this government’

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Likud MK Sharren Haskel announcing her resignation from the Knesset and the Likud party, on December 23, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud MK Sharren Haskel announcing her resignation from the Knesset and the Likud party, on December 23, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Likud MK Sharen Haskel announced Wednesday that she was resigning from the Knesset and joining the recently established New Hope party set up by another Likud rebel, former MK Gideon Sa’ar.

In doing so, she became the third Likud lawmaker to defect to Sa’ar’s fledgling party, which current polls suggest would be the second-largest in the Knesset after the March 2021 elections.

Announcing the move at a press conference held the morning after the Knesset officially dispersed with the government failure to pass a state budget, Haskel said she could no longer identify with the party that brought her into politics.

“When I joined Likud, I did so with the understanding that this was the most suitable party for me. I read Jabotinsky’s and Begin’s books and found expression of my worldview — Jewish state, settlement, liberal economy, strong democracy, statehood and especially unity among all sections of the people,” she said. “There is a big gap between these ideas and the values and norms that characterize the Likud today.”

Haskel said the party had lost her trust as well as the public’s.

Citing what she called an “abandonment” of both the settlement project and a commitment to reform the judicial system, Haskel said that “above all, the current government has failed miserably in running the country, and has disgraced the trust given to it by the citizens of the country.”

Likud MK SharrYifatfen Haskel announcing her resignation from the Knesset and the Likud party, on December 23, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“In these circumstances, my conscience does not allow me to continue to support this government, nor to be a member of the Likud under its current leadership,” she said. “Therefore, I intend to return my mandate to Likud, and resign from my membership in the Knesset.”

She called on other Likud MKs to join her “to fight together to achieve the same goals, but this time in a party where it is possible, and under responsible leadership.”

Since Sa’ar announced earlier this month he was leaving Likud to challenge Netanyahu for the country’s leadership, polls have suggested New Hope would shake up the political landscape and introduce several potential paths to a coalition that does not include Netanyahu, while seriously narrowing the premier’s chances of leading the next government.

An MK since 2015, Canadian-born Haskel has been an outspoken advocate for personal freedoms and the free market. She has consistently gained high scores in the annual “Liberty Index” and has fought many well-established institutions she views as infringing on personal rights, such as the Israel Dairy Board.

She is also a key promoter of the drive to decriminalize recreational cannabis use and leads the LGBT Knesset caucus.

The Knesset overnight Monday rejected a bill that would have deferred a Tuesday midnight deadline for passing the 2020 state budget, and thus set Israel on course to its fourth general election in two years. The bill was brought for a vote by the coalition but Haskel, breaking party discipline, didn’t show up for it, helping leading to its defeat by a narrow margin of 49-47.

Lawmakers vote against a bill to delay the budget deadline on December 22, 2020 (Danny Shem Tov/ Knesset Spokesperson)

“The events of recent days have illustrated that this government has no mandate to continue to rule,” she said on Wednesday.

Michal Shir, a former Likud MK who left for Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party in December 2020. (Courtesy)

Another Likud lawmaker, MK Michal Shir, voted against the bill, then announced that she was leaving Likud to join New Hope.

Shir’s and Haskel’s defections follow that of of Likud MK Yifat Shasha-Biton, chair of the Knesset coronavirus committee, and the announcement from Derech Eretz MKs Yoaz Hendel and Tzvi Hauser of the Derech Aretz faction that they would also be joining Sa’ar.

MK Yifat Shasha-Biton leads a children’s rights committee meeting at the Knesset, January 10, 2017 (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

In December last year, Haskel was the fourth Likud MK to back Sa’ar as the sole challenger in the internal party primary for the party leadership.

“I believe that Gideon Sa’ar will be able to maintain the power of Likud as a leading party, a ruling party. Gideon Sa’ar faithfully represents the principles of Likud, the national-liberal party, and I see in him a partner for the national and liberal values that I was elected to the Knesset for and that I am committed to advancing,” she said in a statement at the time.

Gideon Sa’ar visits Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem in Jerusalem on December 16, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Haskel was also one of only a handful of Likud MKs, including both Sa’ar and Shir, to publicly criticize proposed legislation that could have shielded Netanyahu from prosecution, warning in May 2019 that its passage could hurt the ruling party politically.

With Haskel’s resignation from the Knesset, former minister Ayoub Kara was set to replace her as the next in line on Likud’s electoral slate.

Kara, however, said Wednesday that he wasn’t sure if he would take the seat.

“Within two days, I will decide whether to enter the Knesset or not, following my dealings with the Gulf states and economic peace that is so close to my heart,” he said in a statement. “I want to thank all the tens of thousands of supporters who have flooded me with support and love and want to see me back in the legislature.”

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