‘Netanyahu destroyed Likud,’ says ex-adviser bolting party for rival faction

Ze’ev Elkin announced he is quitting the prime minister’s Likud party to join Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope faction.

By World Israel News Staff and AP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s close adviser Ze’ev Elkin announced on Wednesday he is leaving the Likud Party to run with Gideon Sa’ar’s recently formed New Hope party.

Elkin held key ministries under Netanyahu, had served as the prime minister’s former coalition chairman, and was also a liaison with Russian President Vladimir Putin, operating as the prime minister’s translator and key adviser on matters related to Russia.

In the announcement related to his departure, Elkin issued a scorching rebuke to Netanyahu, accusing him of “destroy[ing] the Likud movement” and transforming it into “a cult of personality.”

Elkin’s primary accusations relate to claims by Netanyahu’s rivals that he is dragging the country into successive rounds of elections to avoid prosecution on the corruption charges he faces.

Earlier on Wednesday, the head of Israel’s Labor Party said he will not seek re-election as leader of the former ruling party as the country enters its fourth election campaign in two years.

The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, dissolved at midnight after the government failed to pass a national budget for 2020 amid bitter coalition disputes between its two main partners, the Likud and Blue and White parties.

Israel now heads to its fourth national election since March 2019 while facing a runaway coronavirus outbreak, an economic crisis, and a prime minister on trial for corruption.

New elections will take place on March 23.

Amir Peretz, head of the left-wing Labor Party, which helped found the state of Israel and ruled in its first three decades, announced that he would step down as party leader.

Despite repeated campaign pledges not to do so, Peretz joined Netanyahu’s unity government in May and served as economy minister. The move led the already troubled party to lose many of its remaining supporters.

“At this time the Labor Party needs to undergo renewal and choose a new chairman and new leadership for itself,” Peretz wrote on his Facebook page.

Recent polls have projected that Labor will not break the electoral threshold required to win seats in the Knesset, a stunning downfall for the once prominent party.

The Labor Party shake-up is just the beginning of what is likely to be a shakeup of the Israeli political landscape ahead of the March elections. Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party, riven with infighting, appears on the verge of collapse.

Netanyahu’s biggest challenge, meanwhile, appears to be coming from ideologically similar right-wing rivals who have broken away from Likud due to personal differences with the prime minister.

On Wednesday, junior Likud lawmaker Sharren Haskel resigned from parliament to link up with the nascent party formed by Gideon Saar — a former Netanyahu ally who bolted Likud earlier this month to form his own party.

Haskel is just one of a growing number of breakaway Likud lawmakers joining forces with Saar as he seeks to oust the long-serving prime minister from office.