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Gideon Saar suspends Lincoln Project advisors amid sexual harassment scandal

Netanyahu rival's polling has flagged since anti-Trump campaigners came on board
Israeli politician Gideon Saar talks to reporters during a visit to an outdoor shopping centre in city of Raanana near Tel Aviv, 8 February 2021 (AFP)

Gideon Saar, one of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's chief rivals, has removed US advisors from the Lincoln Project from his election campaign amid a sexual harassment scandal, the Jerusalem Post revealed on Tuesday.

Founded in 2019, the Lincoln Project brought together current and former members of the Republican Party to campaign against Donald Trump and prevent his reelection.

It raised $67m from liberals in the US, which was spent on glossy billboards and video ads in a campaign to dissuade Republicans from voting for Trump on moral and ethical grounds. The campaign targeted disaffected moderate Republicans. However, its effectiveness has been questioned after Trump was defeated but still earned 74 million votes.

In January, Saar hired four co-founders of Lincoln Project to help him oust Netanyahu, the longest-serving premier in Israeli political history. Saar, who started strong in election polls, has seen his campaign stutter since, with his New Hope Party projected to win only 13 seats in parliament in recent polls. 

'Due to financial considerations, the contract with the consultants is under review, and in the coming days, we will examine the possibility of further cooperation'

- Saar spokesman

Israel is holding a national election on 23 March, the fourth in two years. Saar, once a Netanyahu ally and powerful figure in the Likud Party, has vowed he will not sit in a government with the prime minister.

As Saar's fortunes have flagged, so have those of the Lincoln Project.

One of its co-founders hired by Saar, Steve Schmidt, has resigned from the board after further revelations about Jon Weaver, another co-founder, who has been accused of sexually harassing young men and one minor, Fox News reported.

On Tuesday, a Saar spokesman said: "We have never worked with the Lincoln Project. The party engaged four senior consultants who were connected with the project. The individual in question is not known to us. We have never had any contact with him and certainly have not worked with him. 

“In any event, due to financial considerations, the contract with the consultants is under review, and in the coming days, we will examine the possibility of further cooperation.”

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 as advisors, sparking speculation that Netanyahu would be targeted in the way Trump had been in last year's presidential election.

Saar served as a cabinet secretary in 1999, during Netanyahu's first term as prime minister, and defected from Netanyahu's Likud Party in December and formed the New Hope - Unity for Israel Party.