As Israel’s Right Splinters, Netanyahu Is Challenged by Former Protégé

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As Israel’s Right Splinters, Netanyahu Is Challenged by Former Protégé

TEL AVIV—A former protégé of Benjamin Netanyahu is challenging Israel’s longest-serving leader, the boldest sign yet of how the country’s right wing has splintered over the future of the country and the fate of its prime minister.

Gideon Saar, 54, spent more than two decades rising through the ranks of the Likud party, starting as Mr. Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary before serving in the powerful roles of education and interior minister.

But having failed to challenge Mr. Netanyahu for leadership of Likud in late 2019, Mr. Saar broke away to form his own party, called New Hope. That group offers a right-wing alternative to Mr. Netanyahu for the coming election on March 23, the fourth parliamentary ballot in less than two years.

Unlike Israel’s elections over the past decade, where Mr. Netanyahu fended off challenges from the left and center, Mr. Saar is mounting a serious leadership challenge to his former mentor from the right.

That poses a significant threat to Mr. Netanyahu, who faces criticism over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and his corruption trial. If Mr. Saar can continue to siphon off support from Mr. Netanyahu among right-wing parties in parliament, he could block the prime minister’s return to office.

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