Former Transport Minister Miri Regev called for a Mizrahi “revolution” in the Likud party on Thursday, complaining that the right-wing party has for too long been dominated by white Ashkenazi men at the expense of Middle Eastern and North African Jews.
In an interview published in Yedioth Ahronoth, the senior Likud lawmaker stated that the fact that members of the Mizrahi community were not adequately represented in national leadership and that there had never been a Mizrahi Prime Minister showed that “something is wrong here” and “only the Likud” could change it.
But while the Likud “is a party that is mostly based on Mizrahim [and] on the periphery,” its primary voters mostly vote for Ashkenazi candidates because they have been “affected by the media” and are unready for change.
Declaring that she intended to lead a “golden revolution” promoting a new “Mizrahi elite,” Regev said that her party’s supporters “will have to choose more people from the middle class and from backgrounds that represent them” and warned that “if the Likudniks continue to elect leaders with white DNA, another Likud will emerge, a true Mizrahi Likud that will give expression” to Mizrahi voices sidelined for years.
However, despite her comments calling for a new leadership, the longtime Netanyahu loyalist indicated that she believed that such a change should wait until the former prime minister stepped down from his position at the head of the party.
“I am in favor of a Mizrahi head or prime minister. I think that the Mizrahis, the Likudniks, have long chosen white people to lead them. I think in the day after Bibi Netanyahu, the Likudniks will have to make a reckoning,” she continued, adding that she “definitely” saw herself as “part of this leadership.”
Asked if she thought she could win, she replied that she did not know but that Likud supporters would choose whether they want “to continue to always vote for the same DNA.”
In a series of tweets, Akiva Novick, a reporter for national broadcaster Kan, asked why Regev had not made such statements previously and supported such a move only after Netanyahu’s exit from the political scene.
“Has anyone heard her criticize the Likud during her thirteen years in the party? When rich Ashkenazi men were elected over and over? Could it be that she just found a theme for the campaign against Yuli Edelstein,” he mused.
Likud number two Yuli Edelstein has been reported to be considering a primary run and, according to Kan, has reportedly said that Netanyahu had “made all the possible mistakes; everywhere I go, they say he needs to be replaced.”
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Last month, the pro-Netanyahu daily Israel Hayom ran an article declaring that “knives are being drawn in Likud” in which two anonymous former Likud ministers slammed the erstwhile prime minister’s continued grip over the party.
The ministers described a leader who took a transactional approach, who “never tried to talk, have a conversation, or show he understood how [members] felt” and who left many of his supporters feeling slighted.
While there have been few public signs of displeasure with Netanyahu’s continued stewardship of Likud, there have been increasing indications that those high up in the ranks of the party have grown increasingly frustrated with his repeated failures to produce a stable coalition over the course of multiple elections.
After being ousted from the Prime Minister’s Office this summer, Netanyahu tried to arrange for a primary to be held as fast as possible in order to preempt the emergence of any serious challengers to his leadership, but was rebuffed by party bigwigs.
The Likud party has long been popular among Mizrahi Jews, many of whom felt marginalized under the Mapai and Labor parties’ long rule. However, one Netanyahu confidant insulted this important segment of the Likud base.
In a leaked recording published last March, Netanyahu’s fixer and former bureau chief of staff Nathan Eshel implied that the “non-Ashkenazi” public loves a criminal, which is why Netanyahu’s pending indictments weren’t hurting him among his electorate but were in fact helping him.
Eshel also called Regev a “beast” who nonetheless is effective in speaking to the “non-Ashkenazi” Likud voters.
Regev, usually the first to jump to Netanyahu’s defense, was uncharacteristically silent following the publication of the recording, later saying Eshel called to apologize and that he does not speak for anyone, "most certainly not the [then] prime minister,” who also issued a condemnation.