Sa'ar challenges Netanyahu to debate

Netanyahu accuses Sa'ar of wanting 'illegal primary.'

Gideon Sa’ar takes on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during an interview at his Knesset office on Wednesday.  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Gideon Sa’ar takes on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during an interview at his Knesset office on Wednesday.
Likud leadership challenger Gideon Sa’ar called upon Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to two formal debates on foreign and domestic policy on Saturday night in an interview on Channel 13.
Netanyahu debated then-prime minister Shimon Peres ahead of the 1996 election and Yitzhak Mordechai, who was one of his challengers in the 1999 election. But despite his reputation for bringing American-style politics to Israel, Netanyahu has refrained from holding formal debates against political opponents since then.
Sa’ar warned that if Netanyahu wins the December 26 Likud primary, the Left could come back to power. He cited a poll in Friday’s Israel Hayom newspaper that found the Center-Left bloc would obtain a blocking majority of 61 MKs if Netanyahu leads Likud, and only 57 seats if he was at the helm of the party.
The poll found that Likud would win 31 seats with both Netanyahu and Sa’ar atop the list.
“Without change, Likud would be led to the opposition,” Sa’ar said. “The prime minister is blocked in many directions due to his personal relations, his legal situation and by his support being limited to parties on the Right.” Sa’ar will hold a rally on Monday night in Or Yehuda.
Netanyahu was hosted by MK Kati Shitrit at a rally at her home in Beit Shemesh on Saturday night.
Netanyahu accused Sa’ar on Friday of “demanding an illegal primary” that was aimed at unseating him from the Likud leadership.
Speaking to more than 300 Likud ministers, MKs, mayors and deputy mayors at his residence in Jerusalem in a show of his political support, Netanyahu referred to the snap primary Sa’ar requested at the start of the 21 days when any MK could form a government.
Sa’ar said at the time that holding a primary could enable him to win, form a Likud-led government and prevent a third election in under a year.
“I had a problem with someone who demanded illegal primaries during the 21 days,” Netanyahu said. “I have no problem with someone wanting to run now. We are a democratic party, I will run with full force and win.”
Netanyahu made a point of not referring to Sa’ar by name.
Sa’ar responded on Twitter that he only called for a snap primary after Netanyahu did the same a month earlier.
“It is legal when Netanyahu calls for it and becomes illegal when someone else proposes it,” Sa’ar tweeted sarcastically. “Netanyahu advanced primaries many times as chairman of Likud and tried to advance them when Ariel Sharon was Likud chairman. That is legal.”
The activists who came to the rally at his residence said Netanyahu always struggles for the state and for them and now it was time for them to struggle for him. Netanyahu asked them not to be complacent ahead of the December 26 leadership primary.
In his speech at the event, Netanyahu mocked former US president Barack Obama for trying to force Israel into pre-1967 borders and saying “Not one brick.” Netanyahu praised himself for standing up to pressure from Obama and enabling the population of Judea and Samaria to double.
Netanyahu faced criticism from Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, who wrote on Facebook that the prime minister spoke about “fake unity” but all he really wanted was immunity from prosecution in his criminal cases.
Gantz said he briefly had hope that a unity government could be reached ahead of Wednesday’s deadline when there were rumors that Netanyahu was considering giving up his immunity. He instructed Blue and White’s negotiating team to prepare for talks.
“Unsurprisingly, it didn’t happen,” Gantz wrote. “Netanyahu remained with his political bloc, with his stubbornness to be first in a rotation, and with his immunity. He remained a leader who cares only about himself and not the good of the state.”