Netanyahu fails to stop main Likud rival Gideon Sa’ar

The prime minister had called on party members not to vote for Gideon Sa’ar, but he fared well nonetheless.

By David Jablinowitz, World Israel News

With the vote count winding down from Tuesday’s primary election in the ruling Likud party of Benjamin Netanyahu, a leading rival of the prime minister has made it to the top of the party list that will run in the Israeli parliamentary election scheduled for April 9th.

The primary vote was for the number two position, with Netanyahu enshrined in the top spot as party chairman. The top finishers in the party ballot are Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who came in first, followed by Public Security and Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, who has cracked down on the “luxury” conditions of Palestinian security prisoners and fought against the global anti-Israel BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement.

Next came Transportation and Intelligence Affairs Minister Yisrael Katz.

However, following on their heels is an outspoken critic of Netanyahu, former cabinet minister Gideon Sa’ar.

The prime minister has accused Sa’ar of trying to subvert him. According to Netanyahu, Sa’ar was seeking to form the next Israeli government if, after the upcoming election, the Likud is deemed as the party in the best position to form a government. Under Israeli law, the president – a ceremonial position in Israel – makes the decision of who should be given the chance to establish a coalition.

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Sa’ar ridiculed Netanyahu’s accusation, calling it fake news. However, the prime minister made clear that he did not want party members voting for Sa’ar in the primary.

In the aftermath of the results, Sa’ar issued a statement thanking the Likud members. “Thank you for your support and love, and for sticking with me, just as I stayed faithful to Likud even in the most difficult periods,” he said.

Sa’ar referred to his previous break from political life, which in itself was believed to have been at least partly due to tensions with Netanyahu. “As a difficult and challenging campaign comes to an end, I want to thank Likud’s members for renewing their trust in me, especially after a four-year break from public life, and electing me anew to Likud’s leadership,” he said in the statement.

The best performers in the Likud election also included Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, who has been outspoken in her fight against state funding for cultural productions considered “subversive” and “against the state.”

Former Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who recently left local politics for the national stage, followed closely behind the top names.

Opinion polls have shown the Likud as the leading party in public popularity. However, the recent formation of a new party headed by former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and efforts to unite center-left parties on a joint list to counter Netanyahu have put pressure on the current leadership and created talk of unity among right-wing factions in order to maintain their parliamentary majority.

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The Israeli electoral system places emphasis on the party, as opposed to individual names, but also on the overriding ideology in the Knesset in determining who ultimately rules.

Though Sa’ar has rejected Netanyahu’s accusations, an effort to depose the prime minister could potentially gain support because he is in the midst of multiple criminal investigations and faced with the possibility of an announcement before the April election that he will be indicted.