Netanyahu Rival Gets Major Boost as Likud Bigwig Backs Him for Party Leadership

The chairman of the Likud Central Committee, Haim Katz, has endorsed Gideon Sa’ar in the former interior minister’s bid to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in next week’s leadership primary.

Likud Knesset members Yoav Kish, Michal Shir Segman and Etty Atia already support Sa’ar.

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MK Katz, a former labor minister, has headed the central committee since 2015. He is believed to have influence over thousands of Likud party members at Israel Aerospace Industries, where he once headed the workers’ committee. The Likud leadership primary is set for December 26.

In August, Katz resigned as labor minister after he was indicted on charges of fraud and breach of trust.

Likud MK Sharren Haskel also announced that she would back Sa'ar. In a Facebook post Sunday night, she wrote that she had a one-on-one conversation with Netanyahu, in which she told him that she made the difficult decision to Sa'ar in a learship primary.

Then-Labor Minister Haim Katz at a cabinet meeting in Eilat, August 4, 2019. Olivier Fitoussi

"I'm sure that in the pages of history, Benjamin Netanyahu will be remembered as one who brought many achievements to Israel on the security and policy level as well as on the economic level," she wrote. "But on the other hand, within a year we were thrust into a difficult governance crisis and a third round of elections, after Likud was given the chance to form a government twice, and twice did not succeed."    

A key Likud member who has not declared his support in the leadership race is Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, but nearly all cabinet members from Likud back incumbent Netanyahu.