The Likud Convention / The Voting Doesn't Matter; It's the Deals That Count

There was a lot of noise and nobody knew what they were voting on, but everything the leadership wanted was passed.

Roy (Chicky) Arad
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Roy (Chicky) Arad

The Likud convention at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds did not look like a winning party's convention. Most people were in their fifties and sixties. The only young ones were the ministers' bodyguards and supporters of Moshe Feiglin.

I was given a puzzle piece that was supposed to represent the work of Deputy Minister Lea Nass. Then I got a flyer from Gabi Avital, which described him as a "missile scientist and author" and denied global warming.

Once elected, ministers and MKs studiously evade their constituents. But when an election approaches, they need them. At least those who pay membership dues.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz entered the hall with a smile the size of the defense budget. He assured a group of committee members from Likud's far-right flank that he was responsible for the budget to upgrade the college in Ariel to a university.

"He wants me to vote for him to be in the first 12 [places on the party's slate]," a central committee member said. I asked him if he would. "Of course not," he said. "But you have to get what you can out of him."

Some delegates said MKs are afraid to talk to them in public for fear of the far right's revenge.

I got a leak from a friend-turned-spokeswoman that a demonstration was being organized to bring back Moshe Kahlon. The speeches from the podium were mainly about the popular minister's mysterious retirement and the vacuum he left behind. A fear of something even worse than natural aging gripped Likud - without Kahlon, the party looks Ashkenazi!

At the Knesset's opening session this week, MK Danny Danon told reporters everyone was looking for a Mizrahi grandfather. Likud spokeswoman Noga Katz told reporters MK Tzipi Hotovely was Georgian.

Some speakers at the convention said that though most party voters are Mizrahi, the party is turning "white." Others denied this vehemently. But the audience, busy concocting deals, wasn't really listening.

"Listen, I'm more curious today to see Kahlon than Netanyahu," said central committee member Yoav Hamadi Halevy, an attorney.

I felt a warmth on my back as I talked to him. The man was hugging me. This hug, which happened again and again that evening, is a Likud reflex. A warm hug with a bit of lording it over you and confiding in you at the same time. Maybe that's what keeps our ministers human, after all. They know that no matter how high they soar, before the next convention they will have to embrace Hamadi Halevy.

Kahlon rose to speak, and it turned out the leak was correct. The first rows stood up and shouted, "Stay! Stay!" and "Moshe, King of Israel" for at least five minutes.

But not everyone is a fan. Gili Halfi was furious. "Because of him we'll lose four or five Knesset seats," he said. "He gave them to Shas. The Likud made him and he left. Suddenly he became high and mighty. If he wants to leave, at least he should do it after the elections ... He must have had a fight with Bibi [Netanyahu], but I don't care. It's a disgrace."

The members voted on procedural matters. There was a lot of noise and nobody knew what they were voting on, but everything the leadership wanted was passed. "It's all a game, it's all decided in advance," one said.

Even as the national anthem was played, the deals were still being made.

The Likud conventionCredit: Daniel Bar-On