(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Likud removed 10,000 members who had joined other parties from its membership rolls Tuesday, in an effort to target the "New Likudniks" group that is being accused of trying to move the party's policies leftward.
It is illegal in Israel to be a member of two parties. Parties usually only examine their membership list and compare it to those of other parties ahead of general elections.
But the Likud administration decided to conduct a special check, as part of its efforts against the New Likudniks. The examination found that there were 5,746 members who were also in the Labor Party, 2,862 in Bayit Yehudi, and a surprising 1,297 who were members of Meretz.
Likud officials said they believed some 2500 of the members expelled were from the new Likudniks. New ideas to target the group include requiring them to pass a new acceptance committee that would test their suitability for joining Likud.
"There is an attempt at a hostile takeover of Likud by people who do not support the party," coalition chairman David Bitan said. "They say explicitly that they do not vote Likud. It is a criminal phenomenon and a fraud. A Meretz man cannot put on a costume and vote Likud. We could do the same and take over Meretz."
Bitan said the New Likudniks want to influence the next Likud Knesset list by electing people who are not real Likudniks or who would damage the party.
He said former Likud MK Moshe Feiglin did the same from the Right, bringing in fervently Orthodox religious Zionists. But he said the New Likudniks phenomenon was larger.
Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel defended the New Likudniks, saying that they started joining the party after socioeconomic protests that called on the masses to become more politically active. She said she has met with the group and found them to be an honorable group whose ideals fit in the party.
Gamliel said the best comparison of the New Likudniks was not to Feiglin's group but by the mass membership drive conducted in the early 1990s by an up-and-coming politician named Benjamin Netanyahu.
"They're authentic socioeconomic activists and the party must be open to them," she told Army Radio.