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The Promise of Gideon Saar

Gideon Saar’s bolting from the Likud has turned Israeli politics on its ear


Along comes another week where we go to print facing a cliffhanger. At press time, we don’t know whether the Knesset will disband ushering in a fourth election in two years, or whether the current coalition, or reasonable facsimile thereof, can strike a last-minute deal and stave off dissolution.

No matter which way it goes, Gideon Saar’s bolting from the Likud has turned Israeli politics on its ear, especially after his vow not to join any coalition with Binyamin Netanyahu ends any mathematical chance of a pure right-wing, chareidi coalition.

Keep in mind political promises are made to be broken. And there is also no way of knowing if Saar’s initial spike in the polls is sustainable.

What I found most interesting this week is following the debate in Israel’s Hebrew-language media whether the next election, whenever it’s held, will be another pure “Only Bibi” or “Anyone but Bibi” race, or whether the next election will be an American-style existential battle between competing political ideologies on the right and left.

I don’t see it as either-or, but I would like to pose a third alternative that will explain Saar’s burst of popularity, and to a similar extent, the ascension of Naftali Bennett.

Israelis want clean government and are fed up with hypocritical politicians who hold themselves above the laws they make.

Even Netanyahu’s many political and media enemies do not begrudge him his many accomplishments, economically, militarily, and diplomatically, nor do they doubt his political genius. There is also room to argue that the legal charges against Bibi expose only his occasional lapses of judgment and not real crimes, but his actions have left the impression that he has leveraged his office for personal gain.

Average Israelis want to know why Bibi can accept cases of expensive imported champagne, while customs officers will bust them at Ben-Gurion Airport if they return from an overseas trip with more than one liter of schnapps. Israelis are still chafing from the indignity of police confinement to a half-mile radius of their homes during this year’s chagim; meanwhile, Bibi and many other leading politicians celebrated with their extended families, violating the lockdown they proclaimed as essential to the public health.

Saar has no such blots on his record in his two decades of public service. Naftali Bennett has also kept clean during his years in high tech and the past nine years in the Knesset.

In an era when people are fearing for their health, suffering financially, and grappling with how to manage family life with everyone at home, voters are seeking a new brand of politician who will labor to ease their burdens, and not an elite class weighed down with their own excess baggage.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 841)

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