For Zion's Sake: Back to business as usual in the Likud

As the Likud continues to lose support, it is banking on the Left’s inability to produce a viable contender to secure the party’s leadership.

June 25, 2013 21:58
Shadow over Likud logo

Shadow over Likud logo 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

Six months after an incredibly disappointing election in which an incumbent Likud party lost a total of seven Knesset seats (amid a larger loss for the joint Likud-Beytenu list) and with almost every poll since showing the joint list continuing to dip in public support – the party has gone back to business as usual.

Things are almost just as they were before the last government fell: The party’s more outspoken MKs attack the Palestinian-state solution while the prime minister insists he will pursue it. Settlers complain of a de facto construction freeze but the Prime Minister’s Office denies it.

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On the domestic front, the government maintains a policy of responsibility and continues working against monopolies, but the Likud offers no specific platform, making it harder for the party to take credit for any achievements while simultaneously failing to impress upon voters that voting for the Likud furthers a specific agenda. That is left to the Likud’s coalition partners who are also its political competitors.

And within the party, confusion reigns.

Long-delayed elections for the party’s central committee were held January 2012. Despite the party constitution’s requirement that within 90 days of election results newly elected members be convened as the “convention” and that the convention’s steering committee and chairman be elected, the elections weren’t held because of squabbles between the prime minister and various MKs and factions within the party. That has pushed off the entire timeline set by the constitution, including the election of more permanent positions within the party.

Apparently as a result of a private petition to the Likud’s internal court, such positions will now be elected. Elections for the “presidential committee” of the convention and its chairman will have been held by the time this article is published – on June 25. It’s not clear, however, if those positions will mean anything as elections for the next set of positions, including central committee chairman, will be held only five days later.

According to a report in Ma’ariv, instead of the 30 to 90 days of functioning as the Likud “convention” as envisioned by the party constitution, the convention will almost immediately become the central committee, in which capacity it is harder to make any changes to the party constitution.

Further evidence of this unconfirmed state of affairs is the fact that before the elections the big story was that the prime minister and MK Danny Danon were competing for the convention chairman post. Now, Danon is running virtually unopposed for the position of central committee chairman and makes no mention of becoming the chairman of the convention. While he remains on the recently published list of candidates for the position of convention chairman, Netanyahu is absent.

Whatever inferences one can draw as to the compromise agreed upon behind closed doors, it seems that the convention-related positions have lost their value.

But who can say for certain? As before, actual information is hardly made available.

For example, official announcement of the elections was made only last Thursday via a text message. Someone regularly checking a section of the party website might have found a link to a pdf with information three days earlier.

Practically, the task of getting word out about the elections was left to party insiders and MKs who were seeking positions, who began their campaigns earlier in the month.

This state of affairs, in which no official notice is given until the last minute and information dissemination is left to party insiders with an agenda is a telling sign of the abysmal state of the “movement”: Israel’s leading party hardly communicates with its members, including central committee members. No one except insiders can prepare a campaign because they have no idea when elections will be held. The same is true with central committee votes as members do not see the actual proposals until the meeting itself, making each vote a fait accompli.

Even if there was time for non-insider candidates to mount campaigns or if some kind of debate was held it’s not clear that it would make much of a difference. Most of the central committee members were only technically chosen by voters. In reality, they were placed on a larger list because of their loyalty to someone else who brokered a deal for “his people” based on the voting power of “his members” whom he registered and has significant control over.

In some places central committee elections were superfluous as all the relevant players agreed on how the spots would be divided.

That was what enabled one Judea and Samaria faction to declare a boycott of the elections for party chairman without worrying that doing so would hurt its standing in the central committee elections being held concurrently.

In Jerusalem, candidates were part of lists that included over 100 candidates on premarked ballots which were handed to members before they entered the polling station.

The Likud even facilitated the process by informing people where pre-marked ballots could be printed.

Similarly when choosing the convention’s presidential committee and the constitution committee central committees members will have five votes, leaving ample room for deals and lists. The ballots are also available for download on the Likud website, allowing for pre-printed ballots to be handed to voters before they get the voting booth, ensuring that deals can be kept down to a T.

In these circumstances it is hard to imagine how these elections will be about anything other than further entrenching various players in the party’s institutions, giving them more bargaining chips to play with in the secret deals that characterize the party’s internal life.

In their last-minute text messages to central committee members some candidates spoke of a revived central committee, hoping to appeal to committee members’ wounded pride, but a powerful central committee could be quite dangerous given the manner in which it was elected and the open discussion last year of cancelling primary elections by 120,000 dues-paying members in favor of having the central committee or some similarly small body elect Knesset candidates instead.

Some seek to further the cause of “Eretz Yisrael” in the party – a worthy goal, but not one that will matter much if the party as a whole continues to lose public support because as a campaign machine it simply is outdated and broken.

None of the candidates (especially the ones with a real chance of being elected), factions or other internal players seem to understand or to care about the fact that there is a structural problem as they are too focused on securing their seats of power in this Game of Thrones-style political scene. The petty internal party politics have created an anti-startup atmosphere, while a start-up mentality propels the party’s opponents to increase their share of the electoral market at the Likud’s expense.

As the Likud continues to lose support and with no one in the party trying to make the changes that could enable the party to reverse the trend, everyone is banking on the Left’s inability to produce a viable contender to secure the Likud’s leadership of the country.

But with Netanyahu having begun his third term and his personal appeal at the voting booth waning, sooner or later, those days will come to an end.

The writer is a Likud central committee member and executive director of Likud Anglos.

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