At Festival for Netanyahu's Party, Vociferous Calls of Faith in Israel's Prime Minister

20 percent of those polled at pro-Likud event say Netanyahu should resign if 'God forbid, an indictment is filed against the prime minister' in his corruption probes

A man attending the Leumiada wears a T-shirt proclaiming 'only Bibi, ya habibi,' January, 2019.
Sassi Horesh

The real drama of the Leumiada, a sort of festival for Likud activists and politicians held in Eilat this weekend, was in the opinion polls.

The results, released Saturday night, showed that 69 percent of participants thought that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not need to resign if, in the words of the poll: “God forbid, an indictment is filed against the prime minister.” Only 20 percent thought he should resign in such a case, or a referendum should be held. Almost 90 percent of participants said that if a unified front of right-wing parties is formed, Netanyahu should head it.

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The Leumiada, which was called the Likudiada in its three previous years but whose name had to be changed for legal reasons because it is not officially a party event and would be considered an illegal campaign contribution if it were, is held every year and run by powerful party activists. The party was fined hundreds of thousands of shekels by the state comptroller because of the event in previous years.

This time, respondents were asked to rank cabinet ministers and Knesset members — not only from Likud — resulting in a list of the ten most popular politicians. Unlike in previous years, the results were released without the winners being rankied as in a mock primary. Some activists say the changes were intended to relieve some of the tension between Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev and Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel ahead of the Likud primary next month. In previous years, Gamliel beat Regev twice and Regev won once as the crowd’s favorite.

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Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev, center at the Likud event in Eilat this weekend.
Sasi Horesh

The ministers who were voted as favorites, with the most support, were Gilad Erdan, Regev, Gamliel, Yisrael Katz, Yariv Levin, Tzachi Hanegbi, Yuval Steinitz, Ofir Akunis, Eli Cohen (Kulanu), and new Likud Immigrant Absorption Minister Yoav Gallant, who just recently bolted Kulanu and joined Likud.

Two ministers, Haim Katz and Ayoub Kara, did not make the cut. The Likud MKs who did not make the party’s Knesset all-star team were Benny Begin, Yaron Mazuz, Yehudah Glick and Osnat Mark, who only entered the Knesset in November. No Mks from other right-wing parties made the cut.

It was clear that Regev and Gamliel were among the most popular figures at the Leumiada and were constantly surrounded by supporters. At an event where the candidates do everything to win, even if they never admit to it openly, the worry is that the results of the event’s polls will reflect the actual primary results.

On Friday morning, Regev took the stage to give a speech and was received warmly. She criticized the Labor Party and its chairman, Avi Gabbay, for his very public recent political divorce from Hatnuah Chairwoman MK Tzipi Livni, saying “Rabin and Peres are certainly turning in their graves.”

Hanegbi mentioned  Netanyahu’s “dramatic announcement” of last week, saying that before his speech many people feared the prime minister would resign. But “the opposition has no alternative on any issue, everything is Bibi. We will have a resounding victory.”

In comparison to the optimism exhibited by Hanegbi and Regev, MK Oren Hazan said: “There is a feeling of euphoria as if we are definitely going to win. It’s dangerous.”