Likud festival has Netanyahu's back

‘It’s the last days of Pompeii,’ says dissenting Likud Central Committee member.

January 29, 2017 01:59
Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

A boisterous jamboree of political exuberance and celebration was the order of the hour at the Likudiada convention in Eilat this weekend, coupled with a huge dose of partisan bombast, confidence, and, above all, support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Club Hotel event was a massive gathering of long-time Likud party and central committee members, activists, ministers and MKs who came together for what seemed at times like an enormous family reunion.

Indeed, the star of the show, Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, who was cheered and hailed wherever she went like a pop star, dedicated much of her opening speech to emphasizing the tight kinship of the Likud party.

Regev said that she had been looking forward to a quiet weekend after coming home from a trip abroad, but decided that she could not miss out on the Likud convention.

“I said I’m going because Likudiada is home!” she said. “This is the secret of the success of the Likud. Before the Likud is a party, it’s one big family, and there is only one home, Likud!”

One of the standout themes of the event, which Regev picked up on, was the wall-to-wall support for the embattled prime minister, along with frequent denunciations of the media, “the elites” and the Left for trying to topple Netanyahu through the recent criminal investigations into his affairs.

“Our political enemies understand that the people have chosen Likud time and time again, and so they’ve given up on replacing us at the ballot box, and so elements in the press and on the Left are using cheap and illegitimate tools to topple the government and topple Netanyahu,” said Regev. “The prime minister and his family have undergone a public and media lynching by the media and elements on the Left, and this is an ugly phenomenon.”

Many of the party activists at the event spoke about Netanyahu’s legal problems in a similar way.

One party member from Beersheba denounced the press for trying to steal his vote from the last election, while vowing that he would support Netanyahu even if he were indicted.

Zamir Ben-Ari, a member of the Likud central committee for 35 years and a former mayor of Givat Shmuel, also accused the press of “persecuting” the prime minister like no other figure before. “Bibi [Netanyahu] has the right to be considered innocent before being proven guilty, and it’s forbidden for him to resign just if he gets indicted,” he said.

“If he is indicted and resigns, and is then found innocent, then what would he have resigned for?” Ben- Ari added.

“The overwhelming majority” of the Likud party will support Netanyahu even if he is indicted, said Ben-Ari, but should he be found guilty in court, such a ruling would have to be respected and Netanyahu would be forced to resign, he said.

In such a situation, Ben-Ari said Transportation Minister Israel Katz would be a good candidate to lead the party, adding that Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who recently joined the Likud, was “good material,” although he said Barkat should be elected to the Knesset first before trying to move up.

Another name mentioned by several activists was former Likud minister and MK Gideon Sa’ar, who has taken a step back from politics but is thought to be planning a comeback.

MK Sharren Haskel said, however, that no one was thinking about who might replace Netanyahu, because such thoughts were premature and such things should wait until the investigations have been completed.

“It’s all assumptions, partial information which has been leaked, and we don’t know who has leaked it. It’s been done so many times before and there were never any charges. So wait until you have the findings and then, most likely, nothing will come of it once again,” she said.

Doron Attias, another central committee member who said the party was “100% behind Bibi,” insisted, as the prime minister has, that the media was trying to pressure the attorney general to file an indictment.

“If he’s done what he’s accused of, he’ll pay; if not, he won’t pay. That’s what will happen,” Attias said.

The mounting pressure on Netanyahu stems from the Left’s concern that, with the election of US President Donald Trump, the prime minister will more easily be able to advance a right-wing agenda, he said.

“President Donald Trump and Bibi have a great friendship, and they’re worried that he’ll be even more successful in advancing the agenda of the Right, to protect Jerusalem as our eternal united capital, to preserve Judea and Samaria, the settlement blocs, and the Jordan Valley and Golan Heights,” said Attias.

But one Likud central committee member contacted by The Jerusalem Post, but absent from the Likudiada, struck a sharply different note.

Central committee member Eli Cornfeld insisted that the Likudiada did not represent the Likud party as a whole, adding that only a small number of the 3,300 central committee members were actually present at the event.

He also denounced Netanyahu as having damaged the party by building it around himself, and warned that the party would collapse if he were forced to resign. “These people [at the Likudiada] are all cheerleaders, and they’re celebrating like in the last days of Pompeii,” he said, referring to the ancient Roman city destroyed by an volcanic eruption in 79 CE as inhabitants of the city celebrated Vulcanalia, the festival of the Roman god of fire.

“When Bibi falls, the Likud will fall apart,” Cornfeld said. Netanyahu has “chopped the head off” of anyone who has surfaced as a potential challenger, he said of the various prominent Likud figures who have left the party in recent years.

Cornfeld said many people in the Likud and the central committee did not believe that Netanyahu would come out of the investigations intact, and that there were moves afoot in the party to plan for the day after.

He mentioned Sa’ar, Katz, Erdan and Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis as possible replacements. “Barkat is a very reasonable candidate,” he said, adding that he made “a big mistake” in going to the Likudiada.

Attias, however, rejected this pessimism.

“The Likud won’t fall apart because it is a strong party, with deep roots put down over many years, and one that has created deep foundations. The movement comes before anything, and it’s only because of the movement that the leader succeeds.”

Amid the festive atmosphere of the Likudiada, a mock-primary election was staged in which Regev took No. 1 spot on the Likud slate.

Miki Zohar did surprisingly well, coming in at number three, while Amir Ohana placed well at 10, Oren Hazan achiever a credible 14, and Haskel came in at 16.

Doing surprisingly poorly was Ze’ev Elkin at 22, Haim Katz at 26 and Tzipi Hotovely at 27.

Some 1,500 votes were cast, although the results are not thought to be reflective of what the actual outcome of an actual primary would be for many senior party figures.

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