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Israel's Gideon Saar asks campaign staff to take polygraph test, following leaks

Decision came after reports revealed he had hired founders of anti-Trump the Lincoln Project to aid his electoral campaign
Gideon Saar speaks at a rally in Or Yehuda, near Tel Aviv, 16 December 2019 (AFP)

Gideon Saar, Israel’s top rival to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has asked his campaign staff to undergo a polygraph test, fearing that details of his election strategy could be leaked to Hebrew media.

Saar's decision was taken on Sunday, after Hebrew media reported that he has hired four American strategic advisers and the founders of the Lincoln Project, a campaign run by former Republicans to defeat outgoing President Donald Trump in last November's election.

Israel is holding a national election on 23 March, the fourth in two years, in which Saar has vowed to unseat Netanyahu.

Saar defected from Netanyahu's Likud Party in December and formed New Hope - Unity for Israel, which has appeared in polls as the strongest party likely to win the Israeli legislative and form a government. Israel’s Channel 12 TV first reported the news, which was then was confirmed by an official from Saar’s campaign.

Middle East Eye could not confirm whether Saar’s decision to deploy polygraph tests was linked to the reports of him hiring the Lincoln Project team.

Saar fears that there is a “mole” within his party ranks who has been leaking information about his election campaign, Maariv newspaper reported on Sunday.

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Last November, Benny Gantz, head of the Blue and White political alliance, also asked his party members to undergo a polygraph examination after details of party meetings had been leaked.

The Lincoln Project

The Lincoln Project's mission was to prevent Trump's re-election. It raised $67m from liberals in the US, which was ineffectively spent on glossy billboards and videos ads in a campaign to dissuade Republicans from voting for Trump on moral and ethical grounds. 

The project said it had tried to win over suburban Republican voters with a college education not to vote for Trump. But some critics of the campaign said that the budget should have been spent on grassroots political campaigning instead.

Co-founders Rick Wilson, Stuart Stevens, Reed Galen and Steve Schmidt, who was John McCain's campaign manager during the presidential election in 2008, were hired by Saar’s campaign. They are all likely to visit Israel.

On Saturday, Saar vowed to unseat Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister, who is also facing corruption charges. Saar did not rule out Likud being part of any government he would form, but said that Netanyahu “will not be a minister” in a future coalition. 

Saar served as a cabinet secretary in 1999, during Netanyahu's first term as prime minister.

Netanyahu could face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison if found guilty of bribery, and three years in prison for fraud and breach of trust. He has frequently denied any wrongdoing and rejects what he calls “false accusations” that are “politically motivated”.