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More political turmoil for Likud: Netanyahu ally Elkin joins rival Sa’ar

Elkin becomes fifth Likud defector in new party

Minister of Higher Education Zeev Elkin (Photo: David Cohen/Flash90)

In another blow to the prime minister, Likud cabinet minister Ze’ev Elkin, a close ally of Benjamin Netanyahu’s, quit the party and joined rival Gideon Sa’ar's New Hope party.

In an emotional resignation speech carried live by Israel’s leading television networks, Elkin accused Netanyahu of forcing the last two Israeli elections by putting his personal legal problems ahead of the country and destroying the Likud. Elkin said that the Likud party has transformed into a cult of Netanyahu, where dissent is no longer tolerated.

“You know well the simple truth: For personal reasons, you have once again taken the country to its fourth election in two years… in the midst of a pandemic” while “trying to place the blame on others,” Elkin said. 

“As someone who is watching this dangerous process from up close, I see how his personal considerations are getting mixed up with the national considerations, and even triumphing over the national interest,” an emotional Elkin told the press. 

Elkin is the fifth Likud Knesset member (MK) to abandon the party and join New Hope. Elkin, however, differs dramatically from the previous four MKs who abandoned Netanyahu and the Likud: Gideon Sa’ar has openly challenged Netanyahu for years. Former Likud MKs Yifat Sasha-Biton and Sharren Haskel frequently disagreed with Netanyahu and were both far from the center of power in the Likud party. MK Michal Shir, a longtime political adviser to Sa’ar, joined the opposition to vote this week against a bill that would have deferred the deadline for passing the 2020 state budget. After the vote she announced her decision to join Sa'ar.

“My conscience is clear that I did the little I could to end this embarrassing excuse for a government mired in disputes, holding an entire nation hostage to (maintaining their) political seats,” she wrote on Twitter.

By contrast, Elkin was a loyal Netanyahu confidant and one of the very few people the prime minister trusted. The Russian-born Elkin formed part of the prime minister’s inner circle and played an instrumental role in Netanyahu’s efforts to forge strong ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Elkin was frequently seen at Netanyahu’s side during the prime minister’s meetings with the Russian leader, many of which ultimately boosted Israel’s security, especially when dealing with the complex threat of Iranian forces in Syria. With Netanyahu’s blessing, Elkin also played a key role in negotiating the “unity government” deal with Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party in April 2020. 

Likud responded to Elkin’s resignation by claiming that he was disgruntled over his place on the party slate. 

“Water Minister Elkin skipped from Kadima to Likud and from Likud to Gideon [Sa’ar] simply because he didn’t get into the top 10 [slots] in Likud and didn’t receive the job he wanted. Gideon’s party is a refugee camp for defectors who failed in the democratic primaries in Likud and are unable to get elected,” Netanyahu’s Likud party said.

Elkin’s decision to publicly condemn Netanyahu and join Sa’ar is a heavy blow for the Israeli prime minister and the future of the Likud party. On Thursday, polls showed that Likud only had a narrow lead ahead of the New Hope party with 25 seats compared to 22. 

‘I can’t tell voters to support someone I’ve stopped believing in,' Elkin told Israeli viewers.

If Netanyahu’s former ally has stopped believing in him, the question remains whether the rest of the country can.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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