In some ways, the Likudiada, an annual retreat in Eilat for Likud members, is not that different from any other weekend at a resort full of Israelis. There’s a stand-up comic and a Mizrachi singer performing at the hotel. There’s the rush to get in some VAT-free shopping. People could be heard singing the Shabbat song Habibi, ya habibi, ha’el hamelech after meals, to which some wore suits and ties, while others sported sweat suits.
There was a giant buffet breakfast, adults relaxing by the pool while kids splashed around, with questionable background music playing, even on Shabbat. Some played backgammon in the lobby and ate sunflower seeds and dried apricots, while others read newspapers.
But, at a regular weekend in Eilat, Communications Minister Ayoub Kara doesn’t partake in the sunflower seeds, MK Yehudah Glick doesn’t get up to give a Dvar Torah (Torah thought), and you don’t bump into Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel hanging out with her kids.
The Likudiada, now in its third year, has been much-maligned in the media for being a money-making scheme hatched by a trio of party activists, for its fake primary with stunt candidates, and for supposedly having hard-partying attendees. Sometimes the criticism has a condescending, racial tinge to it.
Or as Binyamin Lachkar, leader of Les Francophones au Likoud, put it, it’s “an event the media likes to depict as a carnival of baboons.”
That’s not to say that there wasn’t any political theater.
MK Oren Hazan, of course, was in his element, constantly asked to take selfies and rushing on to the stage during singer Lior Narkis’s pre-Shabbat performance.
On Friday, there was a series of speeches by the MKs and ministers present that were bookended by the Likud theme song – “The Likud in your heart, the Likud in your head, the Likud is correct; only one can win against the entire Left…” – applause, and cheering.
Communications Minister Miri Regev, who came in second place in the Likudiada primary and whose aide is one of the event’s organizers – a fact that led to a smaller turnout by ministers than in previous years – received the most-raucous reception of all. She had her own theme song, which is all about her saying whatever she thinks without caring how her opponents react, and a hype-woman chanting “Mirrrrrrrriiiiii Reggggggevvvvvvvvv” into a megaphone. But once she actually reached the stage, she didn’t give one of her “Miri Regev applause,” flag-waving speeches. She talked about policy, told the crowd not to worry about polls, because they’re not reliable, and apologized for not staying the whole weekend because her daughter is enlisting in the IDF this week and wanted to spend time with her.
Kara sparked outrage among the journalists present when he said “fake news” would bring a “death sentence” upon media outlets airing it. But his spokesman sent out a video of the speech, urging the journalists to listen again, and organized a round table with the minister, who clarified he’s not out to kill anyone. Rather, he meant that with his deregulation reform, newsrooms that are unreliable won’t have enough viewers to survive.
Jerusalem Mayor and recent Likudnik Nir Barkat riled up the crowd by talking about working together with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to defend Jerusalem, a theme that always goes over well in the Likud.
One of the stranger moments was when former Shas leader Eli Yishai spoke – he received a polite amount of applause, and some sang the kinds of songs one sings in the presence of a religious leader, but the murmurs in the crowd were more confused as to why he was there in the first place, since he’s never been a Likudnik.
The weekend wasn’t as wild or as weird as past write-ups would have one expect.
Once one walked past the overwhelming entrance to the hotel, which was full of signs and tchotchkes (free promotional items) advertising current and potential MKs ahead of the faux primary, it mostly felt like a regular, family-friendly weekend in Eilat, plus a bunch of Knesset members, and some Likud-themed activities, like the one-man biographical play Mr. Begin, about the Likud’s first prime minister Menachem Begin, and decor, like silly signs with photos of Likud prime ministers encouraging people to take selfies with them.
The late Thursday night event in a pub, ostensibly the party element of the weekend, was one of the more poorly attended; even the PR photo didn’t manage to make it seem like Barkat hadn’t found much of a crowd there.
Most of the attendees appeared to be middle-aged and older, who seemed to want a relaxing weekend along with the opportunities to rub elbows with MKs. The other big group was young families – there was a surprising amount of children under the age of five around the hotel, and not only MKs Amir Ohana and Hazan’s babies.
After Friday’s political speeches quieted down and the sun set, a calm came over the attendees, and they had Shabbat dinners with their families, friends – and elected representatives.’’