Netanyahu Seeks to Tighten Grip on Likud in Primary

Michael Hauser Tov
Michael Hauser Tov
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Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and lawmaker Miri Regev at the polls for the Llikud primary on Wednesday.
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and lawmaker Miri Regev at the polls for the Llikud primary on Wednesday.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Michael Hauser Tov
Michael Hauser Tov

At 9 A.M. Wednesday 110 polling stations throughout Israel opened for voting in the Likud primary. Nearly 140,000 party members are eligible to help choose candidates in the November 1 election.

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Incumbent lawmakers will vie for the top slots on the slate, with the greatest likelihood of getting into the Knesset. Seventy candidates are in contention for the national ticket, while 40 are in contention to represent local Likud branches.

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Only party members in the respective districts can vote for the latter group, none of whom is serving in the Knesset and for whom high slots have been reserved.

As the primary campaign winds up, Likud chair Benjamin Netanyahu is working hard to get out the vote. He is targeting mainly “free voters,” Likud members not already obligated to a particular candidate by virtue of their workplace or having been recruited by a key lawmaker.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 20 percent of eligible Likud members had cast their ballots, putting the turnout on a par with voter participation in 2019, when it was 19 percent as of 2 P.M.

“Don’t sit at home. Don’t go to the beach. Go and vote,” Netanyahu admonished the party's members on Wednesday.

“This is a day of celebration for the State of Israel,” he added as the vote proceeded. “We need to restore the stability and national pride to Israel that only a stable government can provide. If we want to avoid a sixth [round of] elections, we need a large Likud. We have a wonderful team, wonderful candidates, some of whom are new,” he said.

Netanyahu, the leader of the opposition and former prime minister, hopes that his efforts will thwart candidates he fears could repel “soft-right” voters. On Monday, before the Tel Aviv District Court overturned an internal party tribunal's decision that would have permitted David Laniado to run as a Likud Knesset candidate for the Tel Aviv district, Netanyahu urged Likud members not to vote for the candidate, saying that Laniado’s election would cause “needless damage” to the party.

In 2012, Laniado was convicted of breaking and entering and sentenced to a year in prison, and in 2011 he was convicted of assaulting a police officer and of damaging property and sentenced in a plea deal to four and a half months in prison and six months’ probation.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv last week.Credit: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv

On Tuesday evening, the district court ruled that the internal Likud tribunal’s decision to permit Laniado to run was without foundation from both a factual and legal perspective.

Netanyahu believed that Laniado’s election could have scared off right-wing voters who were wavering between voting Likud or another right-wing party and soft-right voters who might move out of the bloc.

Laniado was supported by organized voters, such as those who joined the party through the efforts of MK David Bitan and former Tel Aviv Deputy Mayor Arnon Giladi.

Netanyahu believes that the greater the number of Likud members who are not beholden to a particular candidate and who turn out to vote in Wednesday’s party primary, the weaker Laniado will become – as will other problematic figures in the running with organized support.

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