Gideon Sa’ar takes aim at Netanyahu publicly, while others are doing so quietly. So who is crashing Likud — the mutineers or the leader who refuses to let go?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and then-interior minister Gideon Sa'ar, left, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on December 25, 2012. (Miriam Alster/ Flash90/ File)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and then-interior minister Gideon Sa’ar, left, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on December 25, 2012. (Miriam Alster/ Flash90/ File)


1. Sa’arface: Likud rebel Gideon Sa’ar has set off a minor form of bedlam with his call Saturday night for the party to hold a snap leadership primary, which may allow him to take the reins from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and — he claims — form a government.

  • “Does anybody think that in any third, fourth, fifth or sixth elections, he could create a government? Either there’ll be a continuation of this [political] crisis, or heaven forbid, we’ll lose power to our rivals,” Sa’ar told Channel 12’s Meet the Press.
  • The primaries call makes the top story in all three major print dailies, with Yedioth Ahronoth writing that Sa’ar “took the gloves off.”
  • It and others also make use of the fact that Sa’ar’s name sounds like the Hebrew word for “to storm,” as in, to charge forward in assault.
  • Somewhat surprisingly, Netanyahu-backing Israel Hayom mostly holds back from openly attacking Sa’ar and even features a columnist calling for Netanyahu to step down temporarily to fight the charges. But columnist Mati Tuchfeld still accuses the former minister of “crossing the line,” and predicts that at the end of the day, he will be left standing alone.

2. Say hello to my little friends: Even before Sa’ar came out and openly challenged Netanyahu, there were mumblings of a mutiny (or perhaps coup) inside the party.

  • Both Channel 12 and Channel 13 report that senior lawmakers are trying to work out ways to take down Netanyahu, but are plagued by an inability to settle on a single candidate.
  • While the reports don’t say who is involved, Channel 12 notes the “deafening silence” of Minister Gilad Erdan, Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein and new MK Nir Barkat, on top of Sa’ar.
  • Israel Hayom reports that Barkat has also broken his silence, though he isn’t going quite as far as Sa’ar. Instead he is suggesting that Likud appoint a leader pro-tempore, in case the head of the party needs to step down for legal reasons but still plans on coming back.
  • “Barkat is looking to avoid a putsch from senior Likud people, and also to plan — by agreement — for the day after Netanyahu, in case he needs to step down, and so, according to him, it will be possible to negotiate with Blue and White and avoid new elections.”

3. You worry too much. You’re gonna have a heart attack: Likud is seen by many to be in a sort of panic with all the upheaval, with many not knowing whether to stand by their man or tie their fates to the mutiny.

  • “There is a lot of disquiet in Likud,” a senior source within the party is quoted telling Ynet. “The question is whether it will translate into action. Before yesterday, there was a feeling that there was more loyalty to the leader than to the party. We have to see how it plays out.”
  • Haaretz’s Chaim Levinson notes: “Between the most devout Netanyahu supporters and those who have been waiting for his regime to come toppling down, the overwhelming consensus in the party is that only a miracle could keep Netanyahu in his position for the long run.”
  • In Maariv, Anna Burski writes that what is happening in Likud will be remembered as an inflection point in the party’s annals, after years “in which it could be described in the words of Louis the 14th (with a small change) — ‘I am the party.’”

4. Say goodnight to the bad guy: Even if Netanyahu remains at the top of Likud, there is a question as to what he can do if he is under indictment.

  • Haaretz reports that in the coming days, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit will tell him he needs to give up all his posts aside from prime minister.
  • There is also the question of whether Netanyahu can be tasked with forming a government if he is under indictment, with at least two groups readying court challenges.
  • In Israel Hayom, in a rare departure from backing Netanyahu all the time, columnist Assaf Midni writes that “to save us all the embarrassing and shameful [fight] between the Knesset and the High Court, Netanyahu should show some leadership and step down, and at the same time propose a change to the law… to create a panel to deal with the issue of a suspended prime minister.”
  • Meanwhile in Yedioth, Ben Dror Yemini calls on the groups to not take the case to court, since it will just allow Netanyahu to use it to prove that the courts are subverting the democratic will of the people. “That’s what he wants … It will just make him stronger.”
  • Haaretz’s lead editorial pleads with the party to ditch him, writing that while “only petitions to the High Court of Justice or a change of heart among Knesset members from the rightist/ultra-Orthodox bloc can dislodge him. … the best way to get rid of him would be for his own Likud party to do it.”

5. You think you kill Likud with bullets? In Makor Rishon, meanwhile, former Netanyahu media adviser Ran Baratz writes that Netanyahu should be the one to ditch the bloc.

  • Extolling the importance of a unity government, Baratz dismisses the charges against Netanyahu as “weak,” and claims that it won’t hurt the country to just wait a few years before going after him, for the sake of stability.
  • “From a national standpoint, unity is necessary. Every side loses something: The right needs to break its bloc and the left needs to accept Netanyahu and prime minister and give him unity. But the benefits greatly outweigh the prices.”
  • In Israel Hayom, Yakov Bardugo, accused in the past of being a shill for the prime minister, allows that his “brand” has weakened and keeping him around no longer benefits Likud.
  • But his solution, rather than boot the man in charge, is rather to simply rebrand under the Likud name and “build it anew.” And for the first order of business, he urges the party to concentrate on a national effort to “clean house — not God forbid burning down the house — to return public trust to the law enforcement community.”
  • So basically the same Likud.

6. They always tell the truth. Even when they lie: For a paper that’s so anti-Netanyahu, Yedioth sure does look a lot like him. Caught up in one of the three cases against the premier — publisher Arnon Mozes is accused of negotiating to give Netanyahu secret control of how he was covered in exchange for a law to hobble a main Yedioth rival — the paper, and especially its leadership, is also digging in its heels.

  • One might expect that like Likud, there would be internal rumblings and calls for Mozes to step away from the paper, but Uzi Benziman of the Seventh Eye media watchdog writes that instead, the paper is just toeing the corporate line.
  • “Workers at the paper will point to the balanced way they have covered the embarrassing case in order to push against claims that they are fine with or passive toward the accusations of bribery. They will also note the calls here and there in the paper for him to not intervene in editorial decisions. That’s not enough: To help the publisher extricate himself from the serious crisis he and his newspaper are caught they first and foremost need to … take practical steps to pressure him to immediately resign from the position as editor in chief.”
  • Israel Hayom also engages in some media criticism, not inward of course, but rather aimed at Channel 12 news — Netanyahu’s favorite target. Columnist Gideon Alon takes the channel to task for what he says is acting, and rejoicing, as if Netanyahu has already been found guilty on its Friday night broadcast.
  • “In the studio in Neve Ilan, the whole august panel sat and celebrated with smiling faces, their eyes sparkling and tongues sharpened. Everyone was excited to hold forth on what they thought of and how they viewed the charges with no small amount of happiness, as if they had not heard that the prime minister — despite the indictment — is considered innocent, like anyone else who is charged and enjoys the presumption of innocence, until a court finds them guilty.”