Zeev Elkin, 59, is the first Likud minister to quit the Netanyahu government. He resigned on Wednesday as minister of water and higher education, announcing he was joining the new party established last week by former Likud minister and anti-Netanyahu rival, Gideon Saar. Russian-speaking Elkin served as interpreter in PM Netanyahu’s meetings with President Vladimir Putin in the last two years.
A former Likud party whip, who has held several ministerial posts, Elkin is the highest-ranking Likud member to jump ship. He is a weighty asset for Saar’s New Hope party’s campaign to unseat Netanyahu in the March 23 election, just a day after the Knesset dissolved. Elkin lives in the Kfar Eldad village of Gush Etzion.