Analysis | The Rise of Danonism |

Likud Convention Slips Through Netanyahu's Fingers as Danon Takes Control

Far-right Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon clinches easy victory among Likud party members, leaving the prime minister in the worst possible situation for a party chairman: he's not even a player.

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

Two weeks ago, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to allow “Danonism” − as in Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon − to take control of the coalition.

Danon’s right-wing extremism on diplomatic issues may not have seized control of the coalition, but it is definitely conquering the ruling political party, slowly but surely.

Danon was easily elected president of the Likud convention in a vote held late Tuesday. On Sunday, he is widely expected to be elected chairman of the party’s central committee as well. So Danny Danon is all over the place.

Did you notice who’s missing? Who’s avoiding confrontation? Who forgot to come to work? It’s none other than party leader Netanyahu.

Netanyahu now finds himself in the worst possible situation for a party chairman: He’s not a player. He doesn’t count.

When his predecessor, Ariel Sharon, felt at the beginning of the last decade that his party was getting hostile, he decided to make lemonade from the lemons and turn the disadvantage into an advantage: He clashed with his party and its activists, with the screamers and the thugs. He fought and sometimes lost, but every loss within his hated party merely enhanced his position in the public’s eyes, until his inevitable split from Likud in the fall of 2005.

On Monday, Netanyahu quietly withdrew from the race for convention president. He knew he would be defeated by the deputy defense minister. This is a rather incredible situation: A prime minister, in his second consecutive term and third in total, with more accumulated years in office than anyone besides David Ben-Gurion, fears to stand for election against a rank-and-file MK. Rather than banging on the table and telling Danon, “I’m the head of this party, I’m the prime minister, I want to manage the convention and I will draw conclusions from any rebellion against me,” he bowed before the inevitable, as if it were divinely ordained.

Moreover, the Prime Minister’s Office didn’t get involved in the elections for any of the Likud’s institutions. Netanyahu did not present candidates for the presidium, the leadership of the party bureau ‏(an ideological body that is poised to fall like rotten fruit into the hands of MK Ze’ev Elkin, who is another of Danon’s ilk‏), or the head of the secretariat, which is the Likud’s administrative apparatus.

A party leader − especially when it’s the ruling party, which holds key government positions − doesn’t have the luxury of standing aside and letting extreme elements take over key roles in its democratic institutions. But that’s what Netanyahu is doing.

It’s hard to know what he’s thinking: Either he has lost his fighting spirit and is giving up, or in his heart, he knows that in the next election, he won’t be running at the head of this party.

Danny Danon, center, pressing the flesh at last night’s Likud meeting in Tel Aviv, where he was elected president of the party’s convention.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

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