Likud Cancels Primary for Its Slate, Will Decide When to Hold Leadership Vote

MK Gideon Sa'ar, who has come forward to run against Netanyahu, was booed while addressing the Likud party meeting

MK Gideon Sa'ar leaves the Likud meeting in Tel Aviv, December 8, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

The Likud Central Committee voted on Sunday to cancel the party's Knesset slate primary and hold a vote solely on the party's leadership if no government is formed by Wednesday and a third election must be held.

There is still no set date for the party leadership primary; according to an agreement reached two weeks ago between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud Central Committee Chairman Haim Katz, the primary must be held in the next four weeks.

The party will decide when to hold the vote for the first on the party's slate next week, only after the Knesset has dissolved. The primary will most likely take place after Hanukkah, which ends on December 30, but the date is not final, and is liable to change at the last minute.

At the moment, the frontrunners for leadership of the Likud are Netanyahu and MK Gideon Sa'ar.

The decision to cancel primaries for the Knesset slate passed by a large majority. Netanyahu had proposed the measure two and a half weeks ago to ensure that Knesset members toward the bottom of the ticket would have a place in the next Knesset as well, thereby preventing them from defecting to the rival Kahol Lavan party.

The decision also states that the party will work to pass legislation allowing Knesset candidates further down the ticket to enter Knesset in place of those who were appointed cabinet ministers.

Much of the attention at the meeting was devoted to Sa’ar, who has announced that he will challenge Netanyahu for the party’s leadership. He entered the hall with the two MKs who have expressed support for him, Michal Shir and Yoav Kish, and was greeted with both cheers and boos. When he addressed the meeting, some of the attendees jeered.

Sa'ar's speech had nothing to do with the motion on the agenda, but instead gave a historical review of past Likud primaries, and the party's pride in its democratic spirit. Challenging the prime minister, he said, "is not just an expression of the rights of a member of the party, it’s a duty enshrined in the party’s by-laws."

Over the course of his speech, Netanyahu supporters interrupted Sa'ar with more boos. He then added, "Running against someone who's ruled as the head of Israel's government for 14 years is allowed. The attempts to delegitimize and slander those who want to run are counter to the democratic nature and tradition of Likud."