Top Likudniks Urge Rank and File to Ignore Netanyahu's List

When Likud members cast their votes in today's primary, they should ignore chairman Benjamin Netanyahu's list of recommended candidates, several senior Likud officials urged yesterday.

The list has infuriated many senior party members, who warned that Netanyahu risks a backlash: Should the candidates he is opposing nevertheless make it onto the party's Knesset slate, they are liable to retaliate by working against him in the Knesset.

"In a democratic process, it is not good for the movement's leader to be recommending this or that person," commented MK Reuven Rivlin.

Netanyahu's recommendations are aimed primarily at keeping Moshe Feiglin and his supporters off the slate, as Netanyahu fears that Feiglin's radical views could drive centrist voters away. But he also apparently fears that supporters of his main rival in the party, Silvan Shalom, might dominate the slate, thereby creating an internal opposition to him in Likud's Knesset faction.

This has infuriated Shalom, who accused Netanyahu's circle of portraying him as a "saboteur" in order to damage his chances in the primary.

Netanyahu and Shalom held a long meeting yesterday in an effort to dissipate the tension, and afterward, Netanyahu's office issued a statement insisting that no such tension existed. "For the last two and a half years, the two have cooperated well, and they will continue to work together for a Likud victory," the statement read.

Netanyahu also defended his efforts to influence the primary's outcome, saying that "as the party's leader, it is my duty to work to produce the best list possible and the one most suited to the Likud's character."

Meanwhile, Feiglin's camp published its own list of recommended candidates yesterday. In addition to Feiglin himself, it included Rivlin, Benny Begin, Sagiv Assoulin, former MKs Gila Gamliel, Michael Ratzon and Ehud Yatom, and current MKs Gideon Sa'ar, Gilad Erdan and Moshe Kahlon. Feiglin's staff said the list was chosen based on the candidates' loyalty to the Land of Israel and the Likud's values, and did not reflect deals with any of the candidates.

Other Likud sources said the list appeared to be designed to help Feiglin's electoral chances, as many of the people on it are popular figures who are certain to place high on the party's slate, rather than weaker candidates with whom Feiglin might be in active competition.

Based on internal polls and activists' assessments, the top five slots on the list are likely to be filled by Begin, Shalom, Sa'ar, Rivlin and former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon. Erdan and Kahlon are also expected to place high up. Former Likud MK Dan Meridor, one of the people Netanyahu is promoting, is expected to place near the top of the second group of 10, but activists say they would be surprised if he made it into the first 10.

Ironically, some of the most prominent candidates - like Begin and Ya'alon - have not been Likud members long enough to vote themselves.

Two slots, the 10th and 20th, are reserved for women who have served as MKs in the past. The 24th, 29th and 34th are reserved for women who have never been MKs.