In a public political spat on Monday, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked traded initial barbs in what will surely become a fierce battle for a significant portion of the right-wing electorate.
New Hope leader Sa’ar claimed that Yamina head Shaked would not hesitate to take her party into a government headed by Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu should the opportunity arise after the upcoming elections.
“Everyone who votes for Ayelet Shaked knows that she will go with Netanyahu,” Sa’ar told Army Radio. “Even before the dissolution of the Knesset [last week], she worked to form [an alternate] government headed by him.”
Shaked hit back on Twitter saying she “admitted to having made ‘superhuman efforts’ to prevent going to elections,” and described her actions as “the responsible thing to do” for the country.
And the new Yamina leader in turn accused Sa’ar of negotiating with Netanyahu in a similar manner.
Sa’ar retorted that he had refused past offers from Netanyahu that he, Sa’ar, serve as prime minister in a rotation agreement, and had rejected similar offers in recent weeks.
“Does anyone believe that you would stand up to that test?” sniped the justice minister on Twitter.
Both current ministers previously served in senior positions under Netanyahu; Shaked was director of Netanyahu’s political office and Sa’ar was Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary, and both also served as senior cabinet ministers under him.
The public contretemps between the two cabinet colleagues presages what will be an intense fight over right-wing voters disenchanted with Netanyahu after Naftali Bennett said he would not run in the upcoming elections and handed over the reins of the Yamina party to Shaked.
Both New Hope and Yamina are hovering dangerously close to the electoral threshold in current polling, and both will see each others’ voters as prime targets in the upcoming election.
A poll by the Kan public broadcaster released on Monday showed both Yamina and New Hope at just four seats, the bare minimum needed to enter the Knesset. Israel’s opinions polls can often be unreliable, but do influence politicians and voters.
Shaked’s aspirations to keep her party in the running were given a significant boost at midnight on Sunday which was the deadline for MKs in any party to splinter off, taking with them the election funding allocated to parties on a per-MK basis.
Three Yamina MKs would have needed to splinter off together in order to take the NIS 1.6 million per lawmaker (approximately $450,000), but such an eventuality did not transpire.
Deputy Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana, a senior Yamina MK, is strongly inclined to leave Shaked since he does not wish to sit in a government with Netanyahu, but his office announced on Sunday that he would not be leaving in the “coming days.”
However, it does appear likely that Kahana will end up leaving and he is exploring options to link up with Sa’ar’s New Hope party or with Blue and White, headed by Benny Gantz.
Kahana asked Shaked that she guarantee his future ability to split from Yamina by himself and receive the election funds up to the deadline day for submitting party candidate lists to run in the election, which is September 15, according to a political source. The Yamina party said in response that discussions were ongoing on the issue.
Yamina MKs Idit Silman and Nir Orbach, who both broke with the coalition, are looking for a deal with the Likud party to get a spot on its late, as a reward for their roles in helping bring down Bennett’s power-sharing government with now-interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid.
However, the pair were unable to find a third Yamina MK to break away with them by midnight Sunday.
Party sources say Shaked has no inclination to keep Silman and Orbach in Yamina and notably did not include them in a meeting on Sunday with the two remaining Yamina MKs, Shirley Pinto and Abir Kara.
The party has struggled with defections since the coalition came together last June, with one of its newly elected Knesset members, Amichai Chikli, even voting against the government’s establishment last June.