Likud Tribunal Orders Ruling Party to Hold a Primary for Knesset Slate

Meanwhile, Netanyahu challenger Gideon Sa'ar objects to expulsion of hundreds of supporters ahead of December 26 leadership race

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses Likud party supporters during an electoral meeting in the Israeli city of Petah Tikva near Tel Aviv on December 18, 2019.
AFP

Likud’s internal court ordered the party to hold a primary election to choose its Knesset slate for the March 2 election, rescinding a decision made by the party’s central committee to keep the same slate that ran in the past two elections. The judges accepted two petitions on the issue by a 2-1 majority.

The petitioners claimed that a primary was required not just for the party chairmanship but also for the Knesset slate. The judges ruled that last week’s decision by the central committee to cancel the primary violated the Likud constitution, and the only way to cancel the primary for the Knesset slate was to change the constitution – a process that requires a two-thirds majority in the central committee.

Another petition waiting for the party court’s decision was submitted by the New Likudniks, which the Likud establishment opposes. The group, which supports lawmaker Gideon Sa’ar to lead the party, objected to the expulsion of many of its members from the party rolls on the eve of the leadership primary.

Gideon Sa'ar with his wife Geula Even Sa'ar and other supporters during the launch of his campaign for Likud party leadership in Or Yehuda, near Tel Aviv, on December 16, 2019. 
AFP

In the past few days, 650 New Likudniks received letters informing them that it was decided to remove them from the party within 14 days – meaning they would no longer be members by the day before the primary, which will be held on December 26. The letters says they have the right to a hearing and to appeal the decision.

Likud Director General Zuri Siso, who is close to Netanyahu, is responsible for the removals.

In a court session on Wednesday, representatives of the New Likudniks said 350 of those who received the letters belong to their group. The explanations given for removing them were that the person “Does not identify with the goals of Likud” and that the New Likudniks is an “organized political movement of the left.”

The New Likudniks called it a dirty trick: Those who appeal their expulsion will be allowed to remain in the party, but those who didn’t pay attention to the letter and don’t appeal will be thrown out.

The party court was told that 3,400 people were removed from the Likud rolls before the primary election, mostly because they have not paid their party dues. This was also given as the reason for canceling the party membership of lawmaker Sharren Haskel, who recently announced her support for Sa’ar. At the end of the hearing it was decided that anyone who received a letter removing them from the party could appeal to the head of the party’s election committee, the retired judge Menachem Neeman, and after that would have the right to appeal to the party court.

Sa’ar plans on sticking to his campaign for the primary election, saying he is the only one who can increase the size of the right-wing bloc in the next election and form a new government. So far, Labor and Social Services Minister Haim Katz has announced his support for Sa’ar, as have lawmakers Haskel, Yoav Kish, Michal Shir and Etty Atia. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein have remained silent on the matter and have yet to declare their support for either candidate. All the other Likud ministers have announced their support for Netanyahu.