There are only four days left until the Likud leadership primary between Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and party activist Moshe Feiglin, yet it seems as if
the race is being kept a closely guarded secret.
The Jerusalem Post
There have been no
headlines about it on the cover of any mainstream newspaper since Netanyahu
initiated the primary on December 4.
was the only
paper that covered Feiglin’s major campaign event in Jerusalem. None of
Netanyahu’s events were opened to the press until two rallies Thursday night in
far-flung Beit She’an and Nesher.
Looking at this week’s papers, one
would think that if there is a contest going on right now inside Likud, it is
between rival advisers in Netanyahu’s office, who raced to the attorney-general
to deliver accusations against each other.
Conspiracy theorists would
blame the lack of coverage on a purported decision by the press as a whole to
not grant Feiglin legitimacy. But the truth is that Feiglin has neither said nor
done anything particularly controversial or interesting during the campaign like
he has in the past.
Both he and Netanyahu seem to have an interest in
letting the race pass quietly: Feiglin because he is confident that his Manhigut
Yehudit activists will bring out the vote and Netanyahu because he wants to be
seen as statesman-like and above the political fray.
Behind the scenes,
both Netanyahu and Feiglin have bypassed the press by sending automated messages
to Likud members urging them to vote. The same tactic has been employed by
hawkish Likud activists who are calling upon Likud members to boycott the vote
to protest the imminent destruction of the Migron outpost.
the Migron evacuation sent an automated message to thousands of Likud members on
Wednesday pretending to represent a fictional organization called “Left Now.”
The message called upon the Likud members to vote for Netanyahu.
come and vote Netanyahu so we can finally evacuate Migron and then destroy the
rest of the settlements in the occupied territories,” the message said. “Only
Netanyahu is good for us. So don’t stay home. Don’t listen to your friends. We
know what’s best for you.”
The organizers of the boycott hope that if
less than 50 percent of the members vote, the election won’t be regarded as
legitimate and there will have to be another election for head of the party. But
Netanyahu’s associates are confident that enough members will come out to
legitimize the vote and help him surpass the 73% he won in the last Likud race
What makes Netanyahu so confident is that he quietly passed a
proposal in the Likud election committee last month promising money to
contestants who bring out the vote in the race for the Likud central committee
that is being held together with the leadership contest.
elections for the central committee, if a Likud branch decided on the makeup of
its representatives with a political deal, the branch received the money that
the party saved from canceling the election.
This time, no branch is
allowed to cancel its election even if the number of central committee
memberships allotted to a branch and the number of candidates is the
Contestants in branches that have a turnout of at least 40% of the
vote will be refunded 50% of the fee they paid to run. In branches with a 65%
turnout or higher, the refund will be 100%.
believe that the higher the turnout, the greater the chance his margin of
victory will be similar to that of other leaders in the Middle East.
a race that far from being close, it is no wonder that the press is paying much
more attention to the hotly contested competition in Kadima.
Tzipi Livni gained the upper hand at first by setting a March 27 date for the
race and immediately announcing endorsements she received from half the Kadima
But this was the week of Livni’s bitter party rival, Knesset
Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee head Shaul Mofaz. Thirteen Kadima MKs
announced their support for Mofaz this week, equalizing Livni’s
Former Kadima leadership candidate Meir Sheetrit is expected to
announce next week that he will support Mofaz rather than run again, tipping the
faction in Mofaz’s favor. The fact that Mofaz’s support has risen from just five
MKs in the last race is not a coincidence but the product of three years of hard
work on his part.
As part of Mofaz’s strategy for winning the election,
he drafted a diplomatic plan that was praised in Washington. He wrote an
economic plan before last summer’s protests began. And he devised a plan to
change the political system by instituting regional elections for half the
Knesset, raising the electoral threshold, giving the largest faction the
automatic right to form a coalition and guaranteeing that governments would last
While all of those plans brought Mofaz headlines, he also
worked quietly on his political plan, the first step of which was bringing
respected MKs who once supported Livni into his political orbit. The
endorsements of MKs Ze’ev Bielski and Yohanan Plesner gave him
Livni’s associates responded that the first week in a primary
always belongs to the incumbent, who sets the agenda, and in the second week the
competition tends to recover. They said all of the MKs who endorsed Mofaz did so for
personal rather than ideological reasons, and that Livni maintained an advantage
over Mofaz among Kadima members and the general public.
But a Smith
Research poll published in Thursday’s Globes
newspaper found that Mofaz had also
bridged the gap in the number of mandates he could bring to Kadima.
polls last week found that Livni would win the party four more seats, the Smith
survey predicted that they would both win 13, destroying Livni’s main argument
that she would be a more serious candidate against Netanyahu.
expected to be further harmed as more negative stories come out about her
management of the party. Itzik Hadad, the treasurer she fired, and MK Avi
Dichter intend to make sure there will be more and more negative headlines about
Livni until the election.
Hadad sent all Kadima members an e-mail this
week complaining about Livni.
The second step for Mofaz will be to meet
with as many Kadima members as possible ahead of the election and tell them that
he, unlike Livni, would bring Kadima a post-primary bounce in the polls like
Shelly Yacimovich brought to Labor. He will say that Kadima keeping the same
leader would not enable the party to grow.
If he wins the race, Mofaz
intends to use socioeconomic issues to try to bring down Netanyahu. He is
well-positioned to do that because he was raised poor, unlike Livni and new
politician Yair Lapid who were raised wealthy by fathers who Knesset
The last step in Mofaz’s plan is to cast the Likud in Feiglin’s
image, regardless of the result in the Likud primary. He will compare Netanyahu
to his former colleague at the Boston consulting group, Republican frontrunner
Mofaz will argue that just like Romney is perceived as
centrist but his party has gone to the Right, if re-elected, Netanyahu will be
constantly pressured to go rightward by the members and activists in
If Mofaz succeeds in persuading the public that he could be a
legitimate contender for prime minister, perhaps, despite polls predicting a
landslide victory for Likud in the next general election, that race will look
more like the one currently being held in Kadima and less like the one taking
place in Likud.