Danon to Take on 'Wayward' Netanyahu for Likud Leadership

Primaries to be held January 6; Feiglin rounds out three-man race.

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One small step for Danny Danon, Netanyahu's new Minister of Space
MK Danny DanonCredit: Michal Fattal

Likud MK Danny Danon announced Monday he will run against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in their party’s leadership primary on January 6. The only other Likud member to have announced his candidacy to date is MK Moshe Feiglin.

In announcing his candidacy – less than a day after shepherding the Likud Central Committee, which he chairs, through a mannerly meeting on the date of the primary – Danon took the gloves off.

“Netanyahu, you abandoned the Likud’s path long ago,” he said. “I’m here to return the movement to its historic path.”

Responding to Netanyahu’s hawkish speeches of the past week, Danon warned, “The prime minister has been making right-wing noises in recent days. Friends, it’s a fake. It’s a quest for votes, not for a direction.”

Likud, he continued, became the ruling party because it always promoted diplomatic-security issues and socioeconomic ones simultaneously, but Netanyahu “has unfortunately lost his way.” He then listed what he viewed as the premier’s sins.

“The prime minister froze construction [in the settlements], something left-wing governments never did. He freed dozens of terrorists with blood on their hands. He agreed to a cease-fire [in Gaza] when the tunnels were still burning under the earth. He stopped the Israel Defense Forces from destroying Hamas. He has ignored the cost of living, he turned his back on our political allies, the ultra-Orthodox, and joined up with the left.”

Danon vacillated for a long time over whether to throw his hat in the ring, given that Netanyahu retains massive support in the party. The last time he ran against Netanyahu and Feiglin, in 2007, he won only 3.5 percent of the vote.

Since then, however, he has advanced significantly through the Likud’s ranks, and last year a sweeping majority of the party’s central committee elected him chairman.

During the current Knesset term, Danon has become one of Netanyahu’s harshest critics. At the height of this summer’s war in Gaza, his criticism of Netanyahu’s handling of the war led the prime minister to dismiss him from his post as deputy defense minister.

Prior to Danon’s attack on Netanyahu, the Likud Central Committee decided to hold elections for the party’s leader and candidate for prime minister on January 6. This was a compromise reached on Sunday, when the committee convened, between Netanyahu and committee chairman Danon.

Netanyahu succeeded in getting the party’s approval for moving up the vote that will elect the head of the party, thus consolidating his role as leader in the next general election.

Feiglin, on Sunday still Netanyahu’s only challenger, told the applauding central committee, “I’m doing this in the name of those values that the Likud always stood for.”

Feiglin chalked up an achievement when he succeeded to impose a secret ballot when the central committee votes on his proposal to hold additional internal elections in case no election for the Knesset is held within six months. The vote on Feiglin’s proposal will be held in the next few days.

Danon indirectly criticized Netanyahu when he stated that he would continue to fight “so that the central committee is not just a rubber stamp, but a living and breathing body which affects decision making in our party.”

On Sunday committee members also approved another clause whereby a few days prior to its primary, the party will hold discussions and a vote on several sweeping changes to its charter.

Among other things, they will vote on whether to give Netanyahu the authority to nominate one representative out of each 10 on the Likud’s Knesset list; whether to allow committee members to vote for regional representatives on the list of candidates; and whether to allow all Likud members to vote on the entire list in the party primary.

As part of the compromise, it was decided that any change in the procedures for electing a party leader would only take effect in the election after the next one – that is, for the 21st Knesset.

Thus, the prime minister managed to neutralize one of the major obstacles the party could have potentially placed in his path, since one proposed change is that a party chair wishing to run for a third term will require the approval of 60 percent of central committee members.

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