Targeting 'New Likudniks'

Thee attempt to keep the 'New Likudniks' out of the party indicates the degree to which the party's anti-democratic tendencies have deepened under Netanyahu’s leadership

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Prime Minister Netanyahu and Coalition chairman David Bitan during a Knesset faction meeting, January 16, 2017.
Prime Minister Netanyahu and Coalition chairman David Bitan during a Knesset faction meeting, January 16, 2017.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

The campaign of delegitimization being waged against the “New Likudniks” group, which is gaining strength within Likud, adds to the disgrace of the ruling party, which is gradually shedding its democratic features. As MK David Bitan, coalition chairman and the politician presently closest to the prime minister, admitted: “Likud is not an organization that needs democracy.”

The campaign is being led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said of them: “They’re not Likudniks and they’re not new. They’re old leftists.” Others in the party dubbed them a “Trojan horse.” The Likud has also taken practical steps against them: Registration for the party on the website has been closed to block the wave of registration by members of the group, and Bitan has even begun promoting an initiative to set up acceptance committees for registration for Likud.

The vilification being hurled at the group is a pack of lies: There are many among them who identify with the traditional values of Herut (the forerunner of Likud), such as the rule of law, moral integrity, a free market and other liberal values, which in the past characterized senior Likud members such as Dan Meridor, Michael Eitan and Benny Begin. But more importantly, the attempt to keep the “New Likudniks” out of the party indicates the degree to which the party’s anti-democratic tendencies have deepened under Netanyahu’s leadership. The idea of primaries – open elections for anyone who wants to participate in an important democratic process – is portrayed as a “trap” that’s liable to grant power to those who don’t agree with the “systematic policy” dictated by the party leader and his lackeys.

The democratic system encourages various ideological groups to register with the parties for the purpose of wielding influence. Would anyone in Likud, which today toadies to the settlers – the strongest and most aggressive lobby on the ideological map – dare try to block their mass registration, even though a significant percentage of them don’t vote Likud? Are the “New Likudniks” less ideological than they are? Does a democracy have to protect itself from a group that in the previous elections promoted politicians such as Yuli Edelstein, Gila Gamliel, Yisrael Katz and Yuval Steinitz – and is now being described by some senior Likudniks as an extreme left wing trying to carry out a hostile takeover of the party?

Netanyahu and Bitan are continuing the ritual of “singling out the leftists,” and now those who insist on preserving the remains of democracy in Likud, and are expressing dissatisfaction with the direction the party is taking, are being singled out. Bitan and his friends know that the main problem with the “New Likudniks” is their opposition to the intimidating power structure that is navigating the party at present, of which Bitan is one of the blatant signs. Tzachi Hanegbi was right when he welcomed the “New Likudniks” to join the party: “Any other party would give a great deal to be in a similar situation,” he said. The rest of the Likud leadership would do well to end the persecution.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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