Likud Higher Education Minister Ze'ev Elkin on Tuesday announced he is leaving his party to join Gideon Sa'ar's "New Hope" party for the March elections, slamming Prime Minister Netanyahu on his way out.
"You have destroyed the Likud," said Elkin, who has been a close ally of the prime minister, adding will resign his Knesset seat on Thursday.
In response to Elkin's comments, Sa'ar called him a man of integrity and said he would be his second in command in the new party.
Elkin said he was making the move with a heavy heart but with confidence that this was the right and responsible thing to do.
Addressing his words directly to Netanyahu, Elkin said the Likud had become a cult of personality, a Byzantine court with people pandering to the leader out of fear.
"Your whims and those of your close associates have overtaken the decision-making process with critical ramifications to the country and its citizens," Elkin said.
"As someone who has been observing this from up close, I am more and more concerned. My trust in you and your intentions has increasingly eroded as your personal considerations have come before those of the nation," the minister said.
Elkin blamed Netanyahu for burdening the country with a fourth election cycle in two years.
"We are heading to yet another election because you want to control who will be appointed state prosecutor and to pass laws that will protect you from the prosecution you are facing for corruption," he said.
"I cannot call on the citizens of Israel to vote for you. You Mr. Prime Minister have destroyed the Likud party."
The Likud issued a statement in response slamming Elkin for playing politics while the prime minister was leading a national response to the pandemic.
Netanyahu and his cabinet have been meeting for the past several hours to decide on measures to curb the spread of coronavirus that has been on the rise at an alarming pace, including a decision to impose a third lockdown.