Likud pri­maries: Is Sa’ar a test to Ne­tanyahu’s power?

‘Rivlin just wait­ing to let my fa­ther’s ri­val form gov’t,’ claims PM’s son • Ex-min­is­ter: I’m a loyal sol­dier

The Jerusalem Post - - FRONT PAGE - • By LAHAV HARKOV

Polls are set to open across the coun­try to­day for nearly 120,000 el­i­gi­ble Likud vot­ers to par­tic­i­pate in the party’s pri­mary and de­ter­mine its list for the next Knes­set.

Some of the ma­jor con­tenders for the top five spots are Pub­lic Se­cu­rity Min­is­ter Gi­lad Er­dan – who reached first place last time – Trans­porta­tion Min­is­ter Is­rael Katz, Knes­set Speaker Yuli Edel­stein and Cul­ture Min­is­ter Miri Regev, among oth­ers.

The most em­bat­tled can­di­date is Gideon Sa’ar, the for­mer in­te­rior and ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter who has re­turned af­ter a four-year break from pol­i­tics, to the open dis­may of Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu.

Ne­tanyahu has made it known that he does not want Sa’ar to reach the top of the Likud list, mean­ing to be num­ber two af­ter the prime min­is­ter, a feat that he has achieved in past pri­maries. The rea­son­ing is that if Sa’ar is not in first place, he can­not present him­self as an al­ter­na­tive can­di­date for the pre­mier­ship, which Ne­tanyahu has long main­tained that Sa’ar is con­spir­ing to do.

The prime min­is­ter re­cy­cled his the­ory this week– that Sa’ar seeks to be ap­pointed prime min­is­ter af­ter the elec­tions in­stead of him be­cause of the ex­pected corruption charges against Ne­tanyahu – on the in­au­gu­ral episode of “Likud TV,” a campaign we­b­cast.

The prime min­is­ter’s son Yair Ne­tanyahu joined in the Sa’ar-bash­ing with a Mon­day evening Face­book post, say­ing: “It’s no won­der that Chan­nels 12 and 13 and the rest of the me­dia glo­rify and praise Gideon Sa’ar. They know who’s on their side. [Pres­i­dent Reu­ven] ‘Rubi’ Rivlin is just wait­ing un­til af­ter the elec­tion to refuse to give my fa­ther the mis­sion of form­ing the govern­ment, even if the Likud wins, and to give it to his good friend Gideon Sa’ar in­stead. We won’t let them!”

Sa’ar de­fended him­self on all of Is­rael’s ma­jor tele­vi­sion and ra­dio sta­tions.

“It’s a false tale,” Sa’ar told Chan­nel 12 News. “It started with a con­spir­acy be­tween me and the pres­i­dent, then that I was plan­ning it with mem­bers of the coali­tion, and now it’s that I’m plan­ning it with Likud mem­bers – all anony­mous. Give me names, let me con­front it.”

Sa’ar vowed that he will only seek to be prime min­is­ter if he will be elected leader of Likud, that he is a “loyal sol­dier of the Likud” and that he stands be­hind Ne­tanyahu

in the elec­tions.

“I re­spect the prime min­is­ter… but that shouldn’t al­low him to sully my good name,” he said. “He is do­ing to me what he hates, a kind of me­dia at­tack. I would ex­pect some­one who feels per­se­cuted not to per­se­cute oth­ers.”

The bad blood be­tween Sa’ar and Ne­tanyahu hasn’t stopped the for­mer from be­ing able to raise se­ri­ous funds for his campaign. His top donors in­clude Isaac Ap­pel­baum of Auck­land with NIS 120,000, as well as Nis­san Shalom and Am­non Sha­hal of New York and Kerry Proper of Mas­sachusetts, who do­nated NIS 50,000 each. The law no longer per­mits in­cum­bent MKs to raise funds for pri­mary cam­paigns, with the state grant­ing them NIS 300,000 each, but Sa’ar is not an MK. Nor is for­mer Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, who is in­de­pen­dently wealthy and do­nated NIS 200,000 to him­self.

Ne­tanyahu has re­peat­edly said that he backs all of the Likud’s cur­rent Knes­set mem­bers, but he has specif­i­cally and pub­licly thrown his sup­port be­hind Edel­stein and Tel Aviv Dis­trict can­di­date David Sha­ran, Ne­tanyahu’s for­mer chief of staff and a sus­pect in the “sub­marines af­fair,” who police have rec­om­mended to in­dict on var­i­ous corruption charges. Ne­tanyahu also made phone calls ad­vo­cat­ing for Tourism Min­is­ter Yariv Levin, Chan­nel 12 re­ported; his spokesman would nei­ther con­firm or deny the re­port.

Tues­day’s pri­mary will have nearly 23,000 more el­i­gi­ble vot­ers than the last one, and the dis­tri­bu­tion of the new votes sheds light on the cur­rent makeup of the Likud.

The dis­trict with the most growth is Tel Aviv, which also in­cludes the cities of Holon and Bat Yam, with over 3,000 new vot­ers, bring­ing it to 11,656. This is a likely in­di­ca­tor of the power of the New Likud­niks – a group seek­ing to make the party more mod­er­ate – which is sig­nif­i­cant, but far less than what the group has claimed.

On Mon­day, the High Court of Jus­tice re­jected a pe­ti­tion by the New Likud­niks and MKs Tzachi Hanegbi and Ye­hu­dah Glick, who they sup­port, among oth­ers, to re­in­state 1,000 mem­bers of the party thrown out on grounds that they op­pose the party’s con­sti­tu­tion.

The Judea and Sa­maria Dis­trict lost 800 mem­bers since the last elec­tion, mak­ing it the smallest, with 6,100 mem­bers. Some in the Likud see this as a re­sult of for­mer MK Moshe Fei­glin form­ing his own party, Ze­hut. The large set­tle­ments of Ma’aleh Adu­mim, Be­tar Il­lit and Gi­vat Ze’ev are in the Jerusalem dis­trict, mak­ing Judea and Sa­maria a less pop­u­lous area for the party.

But that has not stopped nu­mer­ous in­ter­est groups in the West Bank to re­lease lists of rec­om­mended can­di­dates. Some of the pop­u­lar ones for set­tler groups are Barkat, Edel­stein, Jerusalem Af­fairs Min­is­ter Ze’ev Elkin, Er­dan, Regev and Deputy For­eign Min­is­ter Tzipi Ho­tovely.

La­bor and So­cial Ser­vices Min­is­ter Haim Katz re­leased his list on Mon­day, as well. As the for­mer head of the Is­rael Aerospace In­dus­try’s union (IAI), he is thought to have thou­sands of IAI work­ers vot­ing ac­cord­ing to his rec­om­men­da­tions. They in­clude Edel­stein, Er­dan, Ho­tovely, Sa’ar, and Regev, as well as coali­tion chair­man David Am­salem and MKs David Bi­tan, Avra­ham Neguise and Yoav Kisch.

Also go­ing to a vote Tues­day is Ne­tanyahu’s pro­posal to al­low him to ap­point can­di­dates to the 21, 28 and 36 place on the Likud’s list for the next Knes­set. The prime min­is­ter said in a video sent to all Likud mem­bers Mon­day that he seeks this power in or­der to al­low merg­ers be­tween the Likud and other par­ties in the event that more cen­ter-left par­ties join forces. The New Right and Bayit Ye­hudi have de­nied that they seek to run to­gether with the Likud.

Tekuma leader Beza­lel Smotrich sug­gested that the Likud run with rad­i­cal right-wing party Otzma Ye­hu­dit, led by dis­ci­ples of Rabbi Meir Ka­hane, who was banned from run­ning for the Knes­set due to racist in­cite­ment.

Ne­tanyahu had pre­vi­ously called for Bayit Ye­hudi and Tkuma to merge with Otzma, but Smotrich ar­gued that “they are much bet­ter suited to the po­lit­i­cal cul­ture and the va­ri­ety that al­ready ex­ists in the Likud, any­way.” •

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