Members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party will be required to sign a declaration stating they don't intend to replace him ahead of September's election and that they support him as their party leader.
The move, first published by the Ynet news website, was initiated following Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman's remarks on Saturday that he will ask Netanyahu's party for an alternative candidate if the prime minister rejects a unity government with the main opposition party, Kahol Lavan.
When asked which Likud lawmakers are possible candidates for the job, Lieberman said that "Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein is definitely a worthy candidate."
Senior Likud member David Bitan tweeted on Sunday that the first 40 candidates on the party's slate signed the declaration after being asked. Bitan told Kan public radio that the names of those who refused to sign would be published.
Opposition lawmakers harshly criticized the move. "The initiative to sign up Likud lawmakers on [a declaration of] loyalty and support for Netanyahu is reminiscent of the North Korea [regime] obligating every senior citizen to bow before every statue of the leaders," said Kahol Lavan lawmaker Moshe Ya'alon.
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Kahol Lavan co-leader Yair Lapid said that "the only difference between what I say about Bibi and what senior Likud officials say about him is that I say it to the media and they say it to me on the phone."
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Democratic Union's Ehud Barak wrote on Twitter: "Does the suspect demand that his senior party members declare their loyalty for the ruler? To crown him as the sole candidate [for prime minister]? Likud members, if you have any loyalty left to the liberal-national movement which you joined – don’t let the criminal suspect transform Likud into the suspect's party."
Labor lawmaker Itzik Shmuli suggested that his "friends in Likud shouldn't stop at signing petitions for the supreme leader. If you already transformed a liberal-national movement into a personality cult, maybe you should also cut your veins to demonstrate loyalty."
Following Lieberman's comments, the prime minister's son, Yair Netanyhau accused Edelstein of planning a coup with the chairman of Yisrael Beiteinu.
"Lieberman just accidentally uncovered a coup he planned with Yuli Edelstein - and they say I'm the one who can't keep my mouth shut," Netanyahu tweeted. He then deleted the tweet, and asked to clarify his words did not represent his father's opinion.
Edelstein issued his own response, saying, "Netanyahu is the only Likud candidate to be the next prime minister. The fact that the names of senior Likud leaders are brought up as replacements for Netanyahu is nothing more than a relentless attempt to delegitimize the elected Likud leader. Nobody can hurt Likud unity."