The New Likudniks are angry, but they have hope.
Their anger has lit a fire under them that’s keeping them going through their Kafkaesque legal battle to remain members of the party that they say they want to help.
The group seeks to be a moderating force in the Likud, though they describe it as wanting to bring the Likud back to its roots when it comes to social issues and the rule of the law.
But over the past year and a half, the group has faced one petition after another before the Likud’s court
, disqualifying large groups of its members – they claim to have registered over 15,000 to the Likud, with 8,000 currently eligible to vote in the February 5 primary – and its candidates.
Five of six of the New Likudniks’ candidates for the Knesset talked to The Jerusalem Post in a makeshift conference room in the basement of a Tel Aviv office building on Monday. Lior Meiri, Dan Klarman, and Yaniv Toyerman were disqualified from the party after a hearing in the party’s court, while Hadar Weisman-Simhony and Nir Hirshman are still on the list of candidates – but were working on a response to a new challenge to their legitimacy during the interview.
Klarman said that from the first time the group’s membership was challenged in the Likud court, they worked on the assumption that they would have to take their case all the way up to the Supreme Court.
“It’ll be surprising if we don’t get there,” Klarman said, calling the petitions against them “anti-democratic McCarthyite factors.”
In general, the argument against the New Likudniks among the party members fighting them is that the group is secret leftists trying to infiltrate the party, a claim that they strongly deny.
“When you talk about the old values of the Likud you get accused being on the Left,” Weisman-Simhony said. “If Menachem Begin ran in the Likud primaries today, he’d be called a leftist. They respect the man, but not his values.”
Asked if they voted for Likud before forming the New Likudniks, Meiri and Weisman-Simhony both answered yes, but Meiri called the question “impolite in a democracy,” despite being the leader of a group of thousands of Likud members. Hirshman was the spokesman for former Likud minister Michael Eitan.
Among the grounds for disqualification the petitioners have listed is that the group’s members don’t plan to vote for the Likud in the general elections. Meiri said that when someone joins the party, they sign that they are working towards its interests, and he votes Likud, but that “I don’t go behind the screen with people” on Election Day.
Other accusations include that Hirshman praised a Labor primaries candidate – whose NGO was a former client of his PR firm – and that Klarman and Meiri were spotted at rallies encouraging Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges. These demonstrations have been the main target of the Likud’s election campaign so far.
“We are swimming in a pool of corruption and instead of the head of our party cleaning it, he’s only adding to it,” Meiri lamented.
Government corruption is one of the issues that inspired the New Likudniks’ formation in 2011.
Meiri, a veteran of the Second Lebanon War, pointed to the many high-level corruption cases in the years after the war, including then-prime minister Ehud Olmert, finance minister Avraham Hirschson and IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz, and a rape conviction for former president Moshe Katsav.
“My feeling was that the people sending us to kill and be killed weren’t good enough,” he recounted. “Then I took part in the 2011 [cost of living] protests, and saw a million people take to the streets and nothing happened.”
That inspired Meiri to look for ways to make a change, and discovered the way party primaries work. He learned that there are members of the Likud who enter the Knesset with under 2,000 votes – generally those who run in specific districts in the primaries – and figured that since he had “more friends than that on Facebook,” primaries were the way to have an influence.
He started by forming a group calling for people to join political parties – any party – but said “it didn’t work,” and then he founded the New Likudniks.
The group is now what Hirshman calls “the liberal-democratic lobby in the Likud” that seeks to represent the public interest.
“The Likud has a good list, and we want to make it better. One of the important things is that they are afraid to return to old values. We come and talk about the rule of law, the importance of an independent judiciary, and there are some people who look at us like we’re UFOs,” he quipped.
They want to combat the dominance of interest groups in the Likud, especially during primaries season.
“Taxi drivers are represented and so is Israeli Aerospace Industries, but no one is representing our needs in health, education, supporting the police, judiciary and other things we care about in our everyday lives,” Hirshman said.
“Infrastructure, the price of milk, pension plans,” Klarman interjected.
“The way we talk to one another,” Weisman-Simhony added.
The group also seemed especially perturbed by what they saw as an increase of religious content in secular schools, which Klarman blamed on former education minister from the Likud Gideon Sa’ar.
Their education platform includes advocating for secular schools as strongly as minorities advocate for their streams in the education system.
Socioeconomically, they are for opening the markets more, combating unions’ control of infrastructure, like the ports, and for breaking up monopolies. Another monopoly they want to break up is that of the Chief Rabbinate; they advocate for civil marriage in Israel.
Security and diplomatic issues are not on their agenda.
And they oppose the Nation-State Law, saying that all it was meant to do is “poke non-Jews in the eye,” Klarman said, and quoted Samuel Johnson: “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.”
Meiri says none of the people fighting the New Likudniks – a small group and not the party itself, he emphasized – is actually disputing their ideas.
“The Likud is small and weak. They think 30 is a lot of seats? No. Begin got 48. [Ariel] Sharon 38.
[Yitzhak] Shamir before his rotation [with Shimon Peres] got 44. The Likud is addicted to Netanyahu even though he brought fewer seats than anyone before him,” Meiri lamented. “We’re saying the Likud can be bigger, more attractive to voters, more representative if they abandon... the cult of personality and go back to being the liberal party of the people.”
The New Likudniks are not trying to be revolutionaries, they want to work within the Likud’s system, Weisman-Simhony said. “The Likud has great institutions... they had primaries before anyone else. As a movement, it has democratic ideals. When it came to empowering citizens, it got corrupted.”
And the group doesn’t plan to stop raising hell if any of them get into the Knesset. Party and coalition discipline are not a concern for them. The group felt that, because they are not beholden to interest groups, they can be reelected even if they are rebellious MKs.
“There are endless decisions to make,” Klarman said of lawmakers. “If there are 50 years of bad decisions you become Turkey. If there are 50 years of good decisions, you become Switzerland. Which do we want to be?”
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