MK Gideon Sa'ar, long seen as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's main rival within Likud, announced Tuesday evening he was leaving the ruling party to launch a new right-wing political movement and run for prime minister against Netanyahu.
Sa’ar, who had challenged Netanyahu for Likud chairmanship late last year and lost in a landslide, launched a scathing attack against the premier at a press conference on Tuesday night.
"A year ago, I tried to make a change. I ran against Netanyahu for Likud leadership and I have accepted the decision of Likud constituents," Sa'ar said. "However, everything that has happened in the last year has made me realize a change in the country's leadership was necessary."
Likud was my political home… but it has been changing dramatically and fast. The movement has become a tool to serve the interests of the man standing at its helm, including those pertaining to his criminal trial," Sa'ar said, referring to Netanyahu's three pending graft cases. "Loyalty to Likud's way, values and ideals have been replaced by flattery and platitudes that border a cult of personality of a man, flesh and blood."
I can no longer support a government headed by Netanyahu, I can no longer be member of a Likud headed by him. I say this with much regret, as someone who saw him as the right leader to lead the country for many years and served in senior positions in his governments."
Today, Israel needs unity and stability, and Netanyahu can and will no longer be able to give it either. Today, the order of the day to replace the Netanyahu regime - the longest-serving in the country's history. "
The former interior and education minister described his new party as a broad nationalist and social movement that will be built for the long run.
Sa'ar said he will resign from his post as a member of parliament on Wednesday.
Chairwoman of Knesset's Coronavirus Committee, Likud MK Yifat Shasha-Bitton, is among the main candidates expected to join Sa'ar's new party.
According to Hebrew media, more Likud MKs may also defect to the new movement as well as rightist Derech Eretz MKs Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel, who broke off from the centrist Blue & White list when they joined the Netanyahu-led coalition in May.
Likud issued a response saying Sa'ar's move was aimed at getting vengeance against Netanyahu for his defeat in last year's primaries and hinted at his decline in internal polls within the party.
"Sa'ar was beaten and then broke all his promises by abandoning Likud just as Prime Minister Netanyahu secured millions of [cocornavirus] vaccines to Israeli citizens, reducing morbidity and mortality to one of the lowest levels in the world and bringing historic peace agreements," the statement read.