Israeli Settlers Make Up 30 Percent of New Likud Members

Over the last two years, settlement activists have been working hard to get settlers to join Likud, with the goal of influencing the party from within.

Some 30 percent of the Likud's new members last year were settlers, raising the proportion of settlers in the party to 2.2 times their proportion among Likud voters, according to a Likud membership list obtained by Haaretz.

Altogether, Likud had 125,696 members as of the end of November 2001, of whom 11,391, or 9 percent, are settlers. In contrast, only 4.1 percent of those who voted Likud in the last election were settlers.

likud - Moti Milrod - July 30 2010
Moti Milrod

Over the last two years, settlement activists have worked hard to get settlers to join Likud, with the goal of influencing the party from within. The driving force behind the effort is a group called the National Headquarters, led by three veteran Likud activists from the settlements: Shevach Stern and Natan Engelsman of Shiloh and David Tzviel of Psagot. It is unrelated to Moshe Feiglin's Jewish Leadership faction of the party, which also once enlisted many settlers; today, Feiglin is recruiting almost no new members to Likud.

The list obtained by Haaretz shows that 6,942 people joined Likud in the first 11 months of last year, of whom 2,082, or 30 percent, are settlers. Of these, most are residents of "ideological" settlements. In contrast, Likud recruited very few new members from the large secular settlements that were its traditional base of support in the territories, like Ma'aleh Adumim or Ariel.

The result is that 34 settlements now have far more Likud members than Likud voters. In Hebron, for instance, the ratio of members to voters is 4.8:1, while in Yitzhar, it's 4.7:1. In Likud's traditional bases, the situation is reversed: In Ma'aleh Adumim, for instance, only 16 percent of Likud voters are party members, while in Ariel, the figure is 15 percent.

One new member, a resident of an ideological settlement, related how the recruitment process worked.

"There was this nudnik (nag ) in my community who wanted us to join Likud," he said. "He explained in a simple manner that the prime minister asks himself how many Likud members I [the settlement activist] have. If there's one, he doesn't count them. But if there's a large number, he has to take them into account. I wasn't convinced, but my wife wanted to [join]. I've never voted for Likud, and it's reasonable to assume I still won't."

The National Headquarters website states explicitly that it isn't asking people to vote Likud, only to join it. Every week, it sends out e-mails to the new members it recruited, urging them to lobby ministers and Knesset members on issues close to their hearts, like the illegal outposts. And when Likud holds primaries to choose its Knesset slate, the group will urge these members to vote for candidates who share their concern about such issues.

Since some MKs are motivated mainly by their own survival, the website says, "we must set a political price tag for them! The price a politician pays is at the ballot box - in the primaries. If a minister or Knesset member knows he is destined to lose his coveted position because he betrayed the trust of those who elected him, he'll think 10 times before every vote."

Since Likud allows people to vote in the primaries only if they have been members for at least 16 months, none of the new members will be able to vote in next week's leadership primary. But if the next Knesset election takes place as scheduled, they will be able to participate in choosing the party's Knesset slate.

Meanwhile, settler activists are split over the leadership race. Some advocate voting for Feiglin, the only candidate running against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Others advocate boycotting the vote to protest Netanyahu's handling of the outposts.