Sa'ar: A new player, not necessarily a big bang on the political scene

Those who view the move as a big bang believe that Sa’ar will actually replace Netanyahu as the leader of the current Likud voters. I do not believe this has any chance of materializing.

GIDEON SA’AR at his office at the Knesset in Jerusalem last year. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
GIDEON SA’AR at his office at the Knesset in Jerusalem last year.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Gideon Sa’ar’s announcement that he had decided to leave the Likud and form a new liberal, right-wing party, that will offer an alternative for right-wingers who are fed up with Benjamin Netanyahu’s self-centered, autocratic leadership, has elicited a variety of reactions.
Some view it as a sort of political big bang, that will bring about Netanyahu’s immediate downfall. Others believe that the major losers from this move will be Naftali Bennett and Benny Gantz – not Netanyahu. Within the Likud, there are many who believe that Sa’ar will fall flat on his face. Finally there are those, like myself, who view it as a possible game changer, that might or might not hasten Netanyahu’s demise.
Those who view the move as a big bang believe that Sa’ar will actually replace Netanyahu as the leader of the current Likud voters. I do not believe this has any chance of materializing, because most Likud voters support Netanyahu personally, either because they believe he is the greatest, in all respects, or because they believe that despite his personal shortcomings, and his poor management of the corona crisis, both from health and economic points of view, he is the most talented and experienced political leader Israel has today.
Sa’ar cannot replace Netanyahu with either of these two groups. Within the Likud, he can only find favor with those who believe in the Likud’s revisionist-liberal policies and its spirit of yesteryear, and who are fed up with Netanyahu’s leadership style and personal conduct. How many of those are there in the Likud today? Certainly not a majority – as the results of Sa’ar leadership contest with Netanyahu last December prove, though Sa’ar continues to believe that the support for him was much larger than the results of the primaries showed (he received 27.5% of the votes, but only 57,377 voted – less than half the registered members of the Likud).
Whether Sa’ar’s move, and his clear announcement in interviews to the three main TV channels last Friday, that under no circumstances will he join a government let by Netanyahu after the elections to the 24th Knesset, will bring about a significant increase in the right-of center component of the just-not-Bibi bloc, which currently consists of Yisrael Beytenu, Yamina (at least temporarily) and Bogie Ya’alon’s Telem, is yet to be seen. Sa’ar will certainly attract many secular right-wingers who, until last week, told pollsters that they were considering voting for Bennett. He will also bring back many right-wingers who voted for Blue and White in the elections to the 21st, 22nd and 23rd Knessets in 2019-2020, but voted for the Likud before that. The question is how many voters, who voted for the Likud in the last three elections, will shift to Sa’ar this time, and increase the chances of the various components of the just-not-Bibi camp – Right, Left and Center–  to form a government without the Likud under Netanyahu.
AT THE time of writing, Sa’ar has not yet formed a party, and only Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser from Derech Eretz (formally from the right wing of Blue and White) have announced that they will join him. Sa’ar is undoubtedly aware of the fact that a purely Ashkenazi threesome, of soft-spoken men – two of them former lawyers and one a former journalist – is an insufficient basis for the sort of party he wishes to establish. His courtship of MK Dr. Yifat Shasha-Biton, of Kulanu in the Likud (currently the chairperson of the Knesset Corona Committee), and of former chief of staff, Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot – who is of Moroccan origin – is a clear indication of his awareness of the problem.  
 I believe that one of Sa’ar’s problems is that Shasha-Biton and Eisenkot are not attractive to Netanyahu’s Mizrahi supporters: Shasha-Biton because she refused to approve certain elements of Netanyahu’s corona policy in her committee several weeks ago, and Eisenkot because of his position as chief of staff back in 2016 over the Elor Azaria affair – Eisenkot favored prosecuting Azaria (who was the darling of many right-wingers – especially Mizrahim – who referred to him as “the child of us all”) for killing a severely wounded Palestinian terrorist. Besides, at the moment it is not yet clear whether either Shasha-Biton or Eisenkot will decide to join Sa’ar (both are being courted by other parties as well) and it is unclear who else might join the party from among the current or past Likud MKs, current or past MKs from other parties, and other figures who are considering jumping into the political quagmire for the first time. All this will become clear once the date of the elections to the 24th Knesset will be decided.
Sa’ar’s new party is not the only new party, or new combination of parties, that will be running in the approaching elections, in an attempt to influence the outcome of the yes-Bibi no-Bibi contest one way or the other.
It is interesting that the initiators of all this hustle and bustle are predominantly (if not exclusively) Ashkenazim. For a long time, I have been expecting the emergence of some Mizrahi initiative that will introduce a new party, with a charismatic leadership of Mizrahi origin, which will appeal to Mizrahi voters who are not ultra-Orthodox, do not view the Ashkenazi Netanyahu as their natural leader and savior (as Dr. Avishai Ben-Haim claims him to be in his theory about the two Israels), and who believe that the Mizrahi population was systematically discriminated against in the past by the old Ashkenazi elites, are still allegedly being prevented by these elites from reaching full equality, and from realizing their full civil and political rights, and that it is time that something be done to change this reality by political means. The notion of continued Mizrahi discrimination in Israel is strongly supported and promoted by both right-wing and left-wing Mizrahi intellectuals, and is resonated by certain Mizrahi MKs and ministers from the Likud, who from time to time actually try to take action with regards to very specific issues.
Perhaps in the future, in the post-Netanyahu era, such a party will emerge, and play a role in trying to resolve some of the schisms in the Israeli society, or alternatively will actually deepen them.