This week, while uprisings were gaining steam in Turkey and Syria, elections
were about to take place in Iran, and a diplomatic plan was being hatched in
Washington, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was focused on defending Israel
from an enemy.
Was it Syrian President Bashar Assad? Iranian Supreme
Leader Ali Khamenei? Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan? No, no and
The answer is Emanuel Weiser.
Who is Weiser, you might ask? He
is a religious-Zionist Tel Aviv lawyer who has twice run unsuccessfully for a
slot on the Likud’s Knesset list. The scion of a Belgian Betar commander, he
heads an organization that represents the ideas of the Likud’s ideological
father Ze’ev Jabotinsky.
Weiser is running for the chairmanship of the
Likud’s internal court, a post the importance of which cannot be underestimated,
especially in Netanyahu’s eyes.
Normally, the court makes decisions about
procedural and technical matters and helps ensure that the Likud is being run
properly, according to its bylaws.
That is what has happened when the
court has been run by a retired judge.
Netanyahu fears that if the court
is run by a right-wing political activist like Weiser, hawks on the Likud central
committee could take him to court whenever he takes actions that violates the
committee’s decisions, such as the decision opposing a Palestinian state or a
potential decision to reject the merger with Yisrael Beytenu that he
The worst-case scenario for Netanyahu is that the central
committee could take action to initiate a leadership race in which he could be
overthrown. If he had his man at the helm of the court, those moves could be
Netanyahu thought he had the right man for the job: A retired
judge with a Likud background named Nissim Yeshaya. But then Yeshaya got in
trouble for saying that “some women enjoy rape,” and then another judge said no
new candidates for chairman of the court could join the race – which could mean
an easy victory for Weiser.
“I don’t intend to use the court to persuade
people to accept my views,” Weiser said when informed of Netanyahu’s concern. “I
just want to help the Likud, which is in a bad state. The court doesn’t normally
deal with ideological disputes. But if he is afraid of running the party
according to its constitution, then yes, he has what to worry about if I
Hundreds of Likud activists gathered at the Gallery Palace Hall on
the Tel Aviv-Holon border Tuesday night to accuse Netanyahu of doing just that:
Bypassing the Likud’s rules for his own political gain. They expressed
frustration with Netanyahu for delaying for more than a year the internal party
elections and a Likud convention that would follow up on the last one, in which
he was booed.
A compromise was reached by the Likud’s election committee
Wednesday between Netanyahu’s associates and political rivals, to hold the
elections on the last day the Tel Aviv District Court ruled was permitted – June
30 – but to hold no convention and no speeches.
A central Likud figure
involved in the compromise said he was shocked at how deeply involved Netanyahu
was in even the most technical decisions.
He said he told Netanyahu he
should not care about such things and should concentrate on running the
The figure said Netanyahu also kept on changing his mind. But he
had his mind made up that he had to fight to prevent himself from losing control
over his own party.
Likud officials loyal to Netanyahu said the fact that
he cared so much about the internal dealings inside the Likud was proof that he
is serious about moving forward the diplomatic process with the
Netanyahu’s intentions on that front were questioned twice
this past week: Wednesday, when he had to take back a joint press release with
Polish leaders that was mangled by junior staff members; and Saturday, when
Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon of the Likud’s unsurprising and
inconsequential views about the government not really seeking a peace deal were
magnified by the media.
The prime minister also proved his sincerity
about the diplomatic process when he intervened to make sure no Likud ministers
attended Tuesday’s festive launching of the pro-settlements Land of Israel
caucus in the Knesset.
With no Likud ministers, the press focused on the
presence of Yesh Atid MK Dov Lipman, who is also in the caucus for two states
for two peoples. MKs privately mocked him afterward but they also called him a
political genius, noting that like Lipman, most Israelis want to make peace
while keeping all the land.
The fights inside Netanyahu’s coalition this
week between advocates and opponents of concessions to the Palestinians deepened
divides enhanced in previous weeks on socioeconomic issues and matters of
religion and state. Forthcoming budget battles and the return of the haredi
draft issue will only intensify the rifts in the coalition.
could take solace in the fact that Israel’s political system unintentionally
prevents weak governments from falling. The weaker a government is perceived to
be, the more the parties have an interest in keeping it together to prevent
elections from being declared. Ironically, it is well-liked governments in which
coalition parties could be strengthened by returning to the voters that are
truly in danger of falling.
But that is only true to a certain point.
Recent history has proven that if a prime minister is seen as too weak,
politicians increasingly disrespect him, and eventually the political vultures
come out to prey on him.
That is another reason why the Likud’s internal
elections are so important. If the younger generation of politicians takes over
the party’s institutions, they could pass up their elders when the race to
succeed Netanyahu eventually takes place.
So the Likud’s internal issues
may not be as exciting as the riots in Turkey and Syria or the election in Iran.
But their significance should not be underestimated.