The evening before the Likud primary, a well-to-do American Jew with ties to Israeli politicians held a housewarming party in Jerusalem. Two candidates for the Likud ticket, Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein and former Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter, put away their cellphones for an hour to partake in the feast. There they met the Likud star taking a time-out from politics, Gideon Sa’ar.
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“Look what’s happening. You left and I replaced you on Yisrael Katz’s hit list,” Edelstein told Sa’ar, referring to the transportation minister, also a high-ranking Likudnik.
“It’s a sure sign you’ll be elected to the top spot,” replied Sa’ar, who in previous primaries appeared on that list (whose existence Katz denies). Despite those efforts against him, Sa’ar shined.
Early Thursday, Sa’ar proved a very adept psychic for a few sweet hours, as far as Edelstein was concerned. But then the Ukrainian-born politician was pushed down by Interior Minister Gilad Erdan, for whom the prophecy was fulfilled.
Two months ago, Erdan filled Sa’ar’s shoes at the Interior Ministry. On Thursday, he inherited Sa'ar's slot just below Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and on Saturday he’ll begin planning his run for the party leadership.
Edelstein shouldn’t feel bad. His place as speaker of the 20th Knesset, if Likud forms the next government, is guaranteed. There’s no danger Netanyahu will drop him; he’s no Reuven Rivlin, Edelstein’s predecessor as speaker. He plays by the rules.
There were predictions that the Likud rank and file would opt for a very right-wing slate, that Netanyahu would be ashamed to be seen with them about town, and that moderates would be sidelined by settlers. But these forecasts proved wrong.
Moshe Ya’alon, Tzachi Hanegbi, Silvan Shalom and Yuval Steinitz won mid-ranked to high spots. Dichter, the former security-service chief who defected from the Kadima party (and a very close associate of Netanyahu), nabbed a decent spot, at the expense of Tzipi Hotovely.
How ironic that a representative of the hard religious right, who would feel very comfortable alongside Habayit Hayehudi’s Orit Strock and Shuli Moalem, was replaced by a moderate who supported Ariel Sharon after the 2005 Gaza disengagement.
The Lord’s man in Likud, the messianic Moshe Zalman Feiglin, that thorn in Netanyahu’s behind, was removed from the ticket. The Likudniks excised him — him and his attempted hostile takeover and the threats he and his people made against other candidates. Those guys stirred things up at the Likud Central Committee, but they badly botched the test of power.
It’s no coincidence that this time Feiglin forwent a campaign to lead the party. He knew he was in dire straits and focused on the primary.
Not so Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon. He insisted on running against Netanyahu, won 20 percent of the vote (the whole anti-Bibi crowd voted for him), and mucked things up. People who voted for him to lead the party didn’t support him in the race for the Knesset slate.
Netanyahu, by the way, also took pleasure from the blow to the pol called Likud’s greatest fixer, MK Haim Katz, the party’s man at Israel Aerospace Industries. As always, he transported thousands of workers in buses to voting stations and lined them up at the booths. They had marked ballots in their pockets and were sent marching inside. Maybe they did their duty, but others showed their disdain by not penciling in Katz's name.
So Netanyahu is enjoying more good news than he hoped for, but the bad news is called Miri Regev — the woman who gave vulgarity a bad name, the woman who on a stage in a working-class Tel Aviv neighborhood, surrounded by racists, referred to foreign workers as a “cancer.” She captured the fifth spot on the Likud list.
Netanyahu gambled on Hotovely as the government’s next woman minister when he gave her the science, technology and space portfolio, on top of her role as deputy transportation minister. She wound up in 26th place. Let’s see Bibi deign to keep Regev out of the next cabinet. She’s capable of bursting into his office and bludgeoning him with the flag she keeps in her car trunk.
And, as usual, ballot-counting dragged on. If we knew Likud couldn’t operate a computer system to do the vote count, we learned Thursday that counting by hand 50,000 votes was a job too big for the party we elected into power.