Likud Backbenchers Crossing Israel in Struggle to Survive Tuesday’s Primary

Everyone knows that the places of the ministers and of returning ex-minister Gideon Saar are relatively safe - the real battle is over the second and third groups of 10

Oren Hazan takes a selfie as he campaigns for the Likud primary, February 1, 2019.
Ilan Assayag

Among the cypress trees and tombstones in the cemetery of Nahalat Yitzhak in Givatayim-Tel Aviv, a memorial ceremony took place recently for Avraham Stern (Yair), leader of the pre-state Lehi underground.

Among the participants were present and past MKs: Aryeh Eldad, Yair Shamir and Limor Livnat, all children of Lehi fighters. Also there were Gideon Saar and Ofir Akunis, and representatives of the younger Likud MKs, Amir Ohana and Sharren Haskel. The last four will be competing for a realistic place on the Likud slate in Tuesday’s primary.

The Likud is talking about at least eight sitting MKs who won’t get realistic places on the Likud slate. Everyone knows that the places of the ministers and of returning ex-minister Gideon Saar are relatively safe. The real battle is over the second and third groups of 10.

Last time Haskel was in 31st place, in the slot reserved for a new female face, for which she needed only 40,000 votes. This time there’s no shortcut, and she’ll need many more votes. She’s aiming for 18th place.

When asked how she’s withstanding the pressure, Haskel remains calms: “Everything’s okay, really. I have a profession, I have something to do if I’m not elected.” On the way home she explains the routine of a politician during the primaries. “Usually it’s 80 percent parliamentary work, 20 percent party politics,” she says. “Since the Knesset was dissolved, it’s been 50 percent and 50 percent.” Her task is to ensure that her representatives, volunteers or salaried activists, get to the over 100 polling stations on Tuesday.

Haskel is said to have two main support groups – Likud veterans and students. Among her supporters is her father Amir, who lives in Canada, but came to support her.

Was her childhood home political? “No,” the father and daughter reply.” Haskel is interested in the agriculture portfolio in the next Knesset, and later she has her eye on the education portfolio.

The next stop is the Likud branch in northeast Tel Aviv. There are about 30 branch members, most of them over 60. Earlier Tzipi Hotovely spoke, and now it’s Tzachi Hanegbi’s turn. He mentions the elephant in the room – the criminal investigations of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “We’ll soon be receiving a legal blow, and the media will swoop down no matter what the decision,” he says.

Sharren Haskel at the memorial service for Avraham Stern, Givatayim-Tel Aviv, February 2, 2019.
Meged Gozani

Haskel focuses on candidate Benny Gantz. “He’s an inflated balloon,” she says. “Here in the Likud it doesn’t work with stars, the right is ideological.” She returns to her favorite subjects: agriculture, the housing market, opening the communications market, which she calls “the law to save Channel 20.” She is followed by Zeev Elkin. A crew from right-leaning Channel 20 is waiting for Elkin outside, while Haskel drives to the Channel 20 studios in Ramat Hahayal.

The Oren Hazan show

Oren Hazan entered the lives of Israel’s citizens four years ago, thanks to two things: The Likud primary system, which saves a spot for a young candidate, and the votes of 5,986 Likud members. But the slot is available only once.

That’s why Hazan is fighting for the second option, recruiting as many voters as possible. He doesn’t forget that some who brought twice as many voters to the primaries, like Moshe Feiglin, with over 14,000 votes, remained outside in the end.

Hazan admits that he needs perhaps four times as many votes as he got last time. But in the Likud, only Netanyahu gets more media exposure than he does. Hazan says he is confident that he is worth considerable electoral power among the general public.

But the media exposure may be disappointing and Hazan knows he’s fighting a battle for his political life. His strategy is to convince the convinced. “I’m weak with the ‘macherim’ and the vote contractors,” he says.

He says that numerous local council leaders don’t support anyone who doesn’t give them money. His analysis is only partially correct. At a recent event, the high point of his campaign, many people were present, but mainly Likud “machers.” Many of those attending Hazan’s event were themselves running for a place on the Likud slate. Hazan mentioned all of them on the stage at the end of his speech. The event was run by Hazan’s father, former MK Yehiel Hazan.

The candidate’s speech was an attempt to mention as many of his potential allies as possible, accompanied by self aggrandizement. But Hazan soon continued with his usual theme – insisting that left-wing human rights NGO B’Tselem must be broken, and talking about his attempts to outlaw Breaking the Silence, an NGO of Israeli combat soldiers critical of the occupation. He was greeted by thunderous applause.

Hazan says his schedule during the primaries is not very different from usual. He drives an average of 10,000 kilometers a month, supporting Likud candidates in municipal elections and visiting soldiers. The main difference is the tension, he says.

Man from the north country

After eight years as deputy mayor of Kiryat Shmona, Yigal Buzaglo is running for a place on the Likud list, as a representative from the Galilee and the north – No. 22 on the list, a realistic slot being contested by eight people. He thinks he has a “very reasonable chance” of being elected. The district representatives are chosen by members of the Likud Central Committee, far from his northern border town.

Recently he has been on a full-out campaign, and says he has met with about half of the 3,700 central committee members. He says that residents of the center of the country want the Galilee to develop further, and are very sympathetic.

Mayor of Kiryat Shmona, Yair Buzgalo, Kiriat Shmona, January 31, 2019.
Abdullah Shama

But Likudniks are unfamiliar with the region, and don’t always vote for the authentic representative, says the mayor.

On the day we visited, Buzaglo took phone calls and talked to passersby in the town’s main square. He has a campaign headquarters in his own home. On another day he traveled to Petah Tikva to meet with central committee members, and attended a conference there and in Ramat Efal. The next day he went to Modi’in and met with the mayor, and continued to Beit Arye-Ofarim in the northern West Bank.

There he urged that Knesset committees be more accessible to MKs. He wants the Knesset Finance Committee to convene in Migdal Ha’emek, for example, the Economic Affairs Committee in Kiryat Shmona. “We always have to get up at 4 A.M. in order to get to a Knesset committee on time. I want the Knesset to come to us.”

Buzaglo declined to take sides over the recent incident in Kiryat Shmona when Netanyahu attacked social activist Orna Peretz, a self-described “Likudnik from birth,” after she heckled him at a ceremony marking the opening of a 24-hour regional medical service. “You’re boring … you simply don’t interest us,” Netanyahu said to her when she complained at the lack of an emergency room in the city. “She shouldn’t have shouted, and he shouldn’t have answered,” said Buzaglo. “What will advance the region is determination.”

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