Quickly drops new recruit who is being probed for bribery

Ya’alon kicks off Telem campaign: ‘Benjamin Netanyahu, your time is up’

After splitting up with Yesh Atid, former Likud defense minister teams up with recently resigned science minister, ex-virus adviser to government, and anti-PM activists

Moshe Ya'alon and Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Efrat on December 19, 2020. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Moshe Ya'alon and Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Efrat on December 19, 2020. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, leader of the center-right Telem party, on Sunday officially launched his election campaign, a day after confirming his split from the Yesh Atid party.

In a speech, Ya’alon vowed to remove Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his ally-turned-rival, from power, underlining the corruption charges against the premier.

“The State of Israel is facing a severe crisis of leadership, the most serious we’ve known,” said Ya’alon, likening the country’s current state to the political turmoil surrounding the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

“He [Netanyahu] is taking Israel’s public agenda and our interests hostage, enslaved to his narrow interests as a criminal defendant,” said Ya’alon.

“He is leading us down a path of division and incitement, quarrels and strife among us all in Israel. We are here to tell you, ‘Enough.’ Benjamin Netanyahu, your time is up; the citizens of Israel are showing you the door at Balfour,” said Ya’alon, referring to the Jerusalem street where the prime minister resides.

He predicted more people will join his anti-Netanyahu slate, and called for unity despite the center-left political parties being more fragmented than ever.

Ya’alon, in an interview with Channel 12 on Sunday night, said he was in favor of merging with other parties, but “it’s not relevant this second.”

Police officers scuffle with demonstrators during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, outside the his official residence in Jerusalem on January 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Ya’alon, a former IDF chief of staff, entered the Knesset with Likud in 2009. He quit Netanyahu’s government in 2016 when Avigdor Liberman was offered the Defense Ministry post — then held by him — as part of a coalition agreement. In 2019, his Telem party ran with the the centrist Blue and White.

Though polling has not yet been done this election cycle on an independent Telem run, conventional wisdom is that Ya’alon will be hard-pressed to win enough votes to enter the Knesset on his own.

Aligning himself with the protest movement against Netanyahu, Ya’alon is courting the centrist vote, though his views are squarely right-wing. A hawk on Iran and staunch supporter of settlements, Ya’alon famously caused diplomatic tensions with the US in 2014, when he called then-secretary of state John Kerry “messianic and obsessive.”

Ya’alon joins a crowded field, with Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, former Finance Ministry accountant-general Yaron Zelekha, former Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah, former head of the Mossad intelligence agency Danny Yatom, and former Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar, all establishing new parties over the last few weeks, as Israel gears up for a fourth election in two years.

Former science and technology minister Izhar Shay, who recently quit the Blue and White party, announced Sunday that he was joining Telem. Shay, in a post on social media, said he was joining as Ya’alon’s “righthand man in creating a political home for liberal democrats in Israel.”

Doctors union chief Hagai Levine resigned as a member of the government coronavirus czar’s expert panel Saturday, announcing that he too was joining Telem party to run in the upcoming March election. And in a surprise move, anti-Netanyahu protest leader Gonen Ben Yitzhak said he would also be joining the center-right party.

Blue and White party member Moshe Ya’alon during a campaign event, March 18, 2019 (Blue and White)

“We needs a political force that promotes these values,” Levine said, a day after resigning from the expert committee appointed by coronavirus czar Nachman Ash, in a public letter berating the government for its decision-making process over the course of the pandemic.

Ben Yitzhak said Sunday that he had informed Ya’alon of his intention to also join the party.

“‘Bogey’ is a partner in the protest. I see him as a leader who deserves to be the prime minister of Israel,” Ben Yitzhak, a former officer in the Shin Ben Security agency who currently heads the Crime Minister group —  one of a number of protest organizations leading the weekly anti-Netanyahu protests — wrote on Twitter, using a common nickname for Ya’alon. “Many have called on me in recent months to run so here I am jumping into the water.”

Moshe Ya’alon attends a protest march to Jerusalem against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on November 14, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In November, Ben Yitzhak was indicted for attending a prohibited gathering and interference with a police officer in the performance of their duties for an incident at a July protest in Jerusalem that turned violent as police tried to end the demonstration.

According to the indictment, Ben Yitzhak was among a number of people who did not respond to a police demand that the demonstration come to a close and continued to illegally protest and make noise. Just after midnight, the police chief ordered the use of water cannons to disperse the crowds, but Ben Yitzhak lay down underneath the cannon and held on to it in an attempt to thwart its use.

Gonen Ben Yitzhak lies under a water cannon at a demonstration against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on July 18, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

Ya’alon on Sunday night announced he had withdrawn a candidate from the Telem list, attorney Ayman Abu Rieh,  after it emerged he was being investigated on suspicion of bribery.

The announcements came after Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid confirmed Saturday night that Ya’alon would not be running with his party, tweeting: “I value and respect Moshe Ya’alon very much and wish him luck.”

Reports last week indicated that Ya’alon and Lapid had been unable to come to an agreement on the terms of a continued partnership.

In the previous election, Telem and Yesh Atid ran on a joint slate with Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience party, an alliance known as Blue and White.

The party broke apart when Gantz decided to enter a coalition with Netanyahu in May 2020, citing the need to prevent a fourth consecutive election by forming a unity government that could tackle the health and economic crises caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Ya’alon and Lapid insisted that Netanyahu could not be trusted and would always place his personal interests, and his effort to evade prosecution from the criminal indictments he is facing, before the greater good.

From right to left: Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon at a faction meeting in Ramat Gan on December 25, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90) Gantz’s party continued under the moniker Blue and White, while Ya’alon and Lapid went to the opposition under the name Yesh Atid-Telem.

Some of Ya’alon’s Telem lawmakers joined Netanyahu’s coalition in May. MKs Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser have since announced that they will run with Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope in the March election.

Despite Netanyahu and Gantz reaching a deal that was supposed to see Gantz replace Netanyahu as prime minister in November 2021, a loophole in the agreement saw the coalition collapse, due to Netanyahu’s refusal to pass an annual budget.

Last month, Ya’alon said he would run with a separate party and have ex-IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot as his number two. Eisenkot, however, has reportedly told associates that he has decided not to enter politics for now and will not run in the upcoming elections.

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