Top minister announces surprise resignation from politics

Gideon Sa’ar to ‘take a break’ to focus on family, will leave post after High Holidays; Likud will fall to 2nd largest Knesset party

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Former interior minister Gideon Sa'ar. (Uri Lenz/Flash90)
Former interior minister Gideon Sa'ar. (Uri Lenz/Flash90)

In a speech to a crowd of some 1,000 members of the Likud, Interior Minister and Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar announced Wednesday that he would resign from his cabinet post and “take a break” from politics in order to focus on his family.

Sa’ar, who has been described as a favorite in the battle to eventually succeed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as Likud chairman, said he would leave the Knesset after the Jewish High Holidays, several weeks from now.

“I look back on 20 years of public service and 12 years that I’ve represented you in the cabinet and the Knesset, and I feel a great satisfaction working for the people of Israel and for this country,” Sa’ar, who was second on the Likud party’s list ahead of the elections in 2013, told the crowed at a party gathering in Ramat Gan.

“These are the achievements of all of us,” he continued, gesturing to the audience. “Without you, without this support and without this love, I could not do anything.”

The event was attended by a number of Likud officials, including Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz and former deputy foreign minister Danny Danon, as well as several other Likud MKs.

Sa’ar move comes only a day after his wife, Channel 1 news anchor Geula Even, was suspended from the TV station following a spat with the channel’s news division head, Ayala Hasson-Nesher. Though the nature of the quarrel between the two veteran journalists was not immediately made public, in the wake of Sa’ar’s resignation, Hasson-Nesher said that she would allow Even to re-assume her position as anchor.

“Now that Gideon Sa’ar has resigned, she can return to broadcast,” she said. “For me the issue is resolved.”

Even, on her part, told Channel 10 that she was relieved that Sa’ar had decided to leave the cabinet.

“He is a brave man and the most talented and most worthy politician to have grown here in recent years,” she said. “[But] it’s time for him to be with his children, his family and me. His job was tough and demanding, and he was dedicated to it, but now he is ours, unless he decides otherwise.”

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said he was “saddened” to hear of Sa’ar’s decision.

“His resignation is a loss to the government,” Liberman said.

Sa’ar’s performance as a minister was lauded by fellow members of the Likud party, who urged him to return to politics soon.

“I’m glad Sa’ar did not leave the party and hope that after resting a little and recharging he will return in to the movement in full force,” MK Miri Regev wrote in a Facebook post.

“I have great respect for the work and contribution of Sa’ar to the Likud and to the State of Israel,” coalition chairman Yariv Levin said. “I wish him great success and am convinced that he will be successful wherever he goes, and that he will return the ranks of the Likud leadership.”

Sa’ar, 47, started off as an assistant to the attorney general before being appointed by Netanyahu as cabinet secretary. He was first elected to Knesset in 2003, and later served as the party chairman as well as the deputy speaker of the Knesset. Sa’ar served as education minister in the previous government.

Since the Likud Knesset list is shared with the Yisrael Beytenu party, Sa’ar’s resignation will shrink the Likud party’s representation in the Knesset from 19 to 18, and Yisrael Beytenu will gain a thirteenth MK — Leon Litinetsky. Following Sa’ar’s departure, the ruling Likud will become the second largest party in the Knesset, trailing behind the Yesh Atid party, which claimed 19 Knesset seats in the 2013 election.

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