Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel entered the Club Hotel in Eilat in a swirl of cheers and to her very own theme music, set to the Likud’s legendary jingle.
The unofficial event,
Gamliel is the undefeated queen of the Leumiada, an annual weekend retreat for Likud members in the southern beach city, winning first place in the event’s mock primary year after year. She pumped hand after hand, took selfies, and even posed with an acrobat who came down from her perch on a ring high above the hotel lobby.
thought to be a major moneymaker for its organizers who include a former aide to Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, used to be called the Likudiada, until State Comptroller Joseph Shapira fined the Likud NIS 350,000 exactly one year ago for accepting an illegal campaign donation because the retreat carried the party’s name.
So the organizers couldn’t recycle their banners from last year, and instead of writing that this was an event for the Likud, it called it an event for the “national camp.” The word “Likud” was covered with electrical tape on the roll-up of candidates in the party’s February 9 primary.
But, this was still very obviously a Likud-focused event. The other parties who define themselves as part of that camp – Yisrael Beytenu or the New Right, for example – were nowhere to be seen, except in a poll question asking if the latter should merge with the Likud.
There were videos of former Likud leader and prime minister Menachem Begin mocking the Left, and a booth from the Betar youth movement selling books by Likud ideological forebear Ze’ev Jabotinsky, along with replicas of the British Mandate’s “wanted” posters for Begin, offering a £10,000 reward for the then-commander of the Irgun militia.
And, of course, there was one Likud MK and minister after another, entering the Eilat resort – some with their families, some alone – walking down the red carpet as the organizers announced their arrival.
The lobby was packed with people hoping to catch a glimpse, and maybe a selfie, with their favorite Likudniks.
Staffers handed out stickers and fliers, and tied balloons to railings advertising the different Likud primary candidates – some well-known, some relatively anonymous – and dozens of signs with their larger-than-life faces lined the room’s perimeter. Most had the number representing the candidate in the mock primary, which is unlikely to reflect the results of the actual party primary, but could give them good PR.
Some came up with more creative campaign ideas. Regev brought her traveling studio, a truck which she plans to broadcast live from during her travels on her primary campaign.MK Oren Hazan enlarged his infamous selfie
with US President Donald Trump, with a hole for people to stick their heads through, so they, too, can be in the photo.
At dinner, Hazan was spotted arguing with leaders of the New Likudniks, a liberal group in the party that some have accused of being leftist infiltrators. He was upset that they targeted him in some of their social media posts.
New Likudnik primary candidate Nir Hirshman argued that criticism from the group probably helps Hazan as much as it helps them: “You’re like the cow who kicked over the bucket of milk,” he quipped.
There was one serious event on Thursday, but only a few dozen of the 3,000 Leumiada attendees showed up, and a couple more planned for Friday, but if last year is any indication, they won’t attract much of a crowd, either.
Still, the panel titled “From Occupation to Sovereignty,” organized by the founders of the settler group Women in Green, featured heavy hitters like Welfare Minister Chaim Katz, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely and Deputy Minister for Diplomacy Michael Oren.
Oren’s appearance raised some eyebrows, since he recently announced that he is leaving the Kulanu party, but he told The Jerusalem Post he is not running in the Likud primary, although he had briefly considered it.
Meanwhile, Katz implored Likud members in the West Bank to recruit their friends in order to promote their interests, because Judea and Samaria is the district with the lowest membership of the party.
Other than Likud MKs and ministers, another type of participant seen around the conference was right-wing media figures. The Channel 20’s Diplomatic Reporter Shimon Riklin, known to be an enthusiastic booster of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, hosted the sovereignty panel, and Galei Yisrael Radio host and former Yisrael Beytenu MK Sharon Gal emceed the Leumiada’s “festive opening.”
But outside of the scheduled events, what most people wanted to do was to schmooze with Knesset members, who were more than happy to oblige. Beyond the zany combination of political slogans, hanging acrobats and a live band covering Celine Dion and Whitney Houston hits, that really was the crux of the Leumiada.
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