A Hanukkah Miracle in the Likud

Benjamin Netanyahu wants to work a Hanukkah miracle in the Likud: with the help of a little oil of myrrh he hopes to get rid of the rot in his party and light its way to longevity.

Benjamin Netanyahu wants to work a Hanukkah miracle in the Likud: with the help of a little oil of myrrh he hopes to get rid of the rot in his party and light its way to longevity. He wants us to believe that by getting rid of a few problematic activists, he will heal the party at its foundation and will inoculate it against future infection. Those watching the maneuvers of the Likud leader may wonder to what extent they signal a process of internal cleansing and to what extent they are a PR trick.

The doubts gnaw both because the three big parties are using the same formula - declaring they are eschewing their past and adopting a new identity - and because at the head of the Likud stands a man most of whose motives and the essence of whose talents lie in making an impression.

Kadima, Labor and Likud are focusing their efforts now on making people forget their familiar images and updating. Ariel Sharon is marketing himself to us, together with Shaul Mofaz and Avi Dichter, and luring us to believe that suddenly they have a new prescription in their pocket for peace with the Palestinians. He has included in his list political oddities like Ruhama Avraham and Eli Aflalo, and claims to present a parliamentary dream team.

Amir Peretz is sweating to present Labor as the opposite of the party we have known until now - young, dynamic, clear in its positions - and is praying we will overlook the responsibility of its leaders for the policies of the outgoing government.

Netanyahu is reinventing the Likud in every breath as a centrist party with clean hands that will not allow Moshe Feiglin and Shlomi Oz to darken its doorstep. He is trying to have us forget that his right-hand man in the struggle for leadership of the Likud is Uzi Landau (to whom Feiglin gave his blessing), and that Michael Gorolovsky and Yehiel Hazan are on the list of candidates for the Knesset slate.

The fact is that until Netanyahu came to the realization that Feiglin and Oz hurt the Likud image, he had made his peace with their membership in it. Feiglin joined the Likud five years ago, and in 2003 he managed to get elected to the central committee together with a close-knit group of about 100 of his supporters. No one in the party has so far challenged the legitimacy of the Feiglin camp, which even played an active role in its internal struggles. The same is true for Shlomi Oz, who in spite of his proven criminal background, has been a legitimate political figure in the Likud for years. In 2002, he played a key role in the Likud membership drive, took control of the Ramat Gan party branch and was considered a "vote contractor" for Omri Sharon and Silvan Shalom. Senior party members were close to him and were guests in his home.

In other words, the Likud did not object to Feiglin and Oz (nor to other activists with a criminal record). These problematic individuals had it good in this party when it was led by Ariel and Omri Sharon, but it is doubtful that Netanyahu can claim innocence with regard to them: he is not remembered as having opposed them before. Only now, guided by considerations of image, is he initiating their ousting from the Likud ranks.

There is, of course, a difference in the seriousness of the charges against Feiglin and Oz. In the case of the former, it was breaking the law for ideology - disturbing the peace in protesting the Oslo Accords. In the case of the latter, it was conspiracy to commit blackmail with threats and forgery. Questions may be raised as to the legitimacy, if not the legality, of trying to prevent Feiglin from running for a place on the Likud slate, the day after he received 12.4 percent of the votes of party members.

However, Netanyahu wants to get rid of both of these burdens in one fell swoop, leading him to initiate a formal amendment to thwart the possibility of individuals with any kind of criminal record being elected.

Since the motive behind the move is entirely image-related, as opposed to a moral one, it is highly likely that he will not make the necessary change in the Likud; it will not be the impetus for a real stable cleaning. Not when the landlord himself lives in a glass house.