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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Likud central committee convened Sunday morning at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds to vote on a controversial proposal that would bar members with certain criminal convictions from running for the Likud's Knesset slate. But while reporters, flyer-distributing activists and Likud Director-General Arik Brami were present as the event opened at 10 a.m., one thing was markedly absent - the voters.
Two hours of speeches by Likud central committee members and MKs that were initially set for Sunday night were shifted to Sunday morning to prevent Likud Chairman Binyamin Netanyahu from being criticized in prime time. The polls at the Fairgrounds will be open until 10 p.m.
Shortly before the meeting opened, Likud activist Moshe Feiglin announced that he would drop his candidacy for the Knesset pending a ruling by the head of the Likud's election committee, former Tel Aviv District Court judge Tzvi Cohen, declaring his candidacy legitimate.
At the Sunday morning press conference, Feiglin accused Likud Chairman Binyamin Netanyahu of wasting two weeks since his election as party leader by conducting a witch-hunt against him instead of attacking Kadima.
At the press conference, a Feiglin associate also accused Education Minister Limor Livnat and other Likud leaders of anti-Semitism in their pursuit of Feiglin's faction, Manhigut Yehudit.
Feiglin had not intended to run for Knesset, but Netanyahu's campaign to prevent him from running ironically forced him to run and even strengthened his candidacy. Netanyahu, who feared he could lose Sunday's Likud central committee vote on banishing Feiglin, sent messengers over the weekend to Feiglin who convinced him to drop his candidacy willingly for the good of the party.
"We have an interest in the Likud succeeding so we had to give in," a Feiglin associate said.
A source close to Feiglin said the real reason he will drop his candidacy was that he was afraid that if he ran and lost, his power in the Likud would diminish. The source said another reason was that the slot on the Likud list reserved for a candidate from Judea or Samaria was unrealistic, and if he doesn't run, he might succeed in getting an ally elected to a higher slot.
Netanyahu's associates have stressed that the proposal, which would prevent "a Likud member who has been convicted of a crime and sentenced to at least three months in jail" from running for the Likud's Knesset slate or any Likud institutions in the future, was intended to target convicted felons that were brought into the central committee by MK Omri Sharon as well as Feiglin, who was convicted in 1997 of "seditious acts and publications and unlawful assembly" during his protests of the Oslo Accords.
"The Likud wants to prevent incidences like those that occurred in the past three to four years in the period of Sharon, during which violent criminal elements who had been convicted of violent crimes entered the Likud and the Likud Central Committee and even are considering running for the Knesset," said Likud MK Yuval Steinitz.
If Feiglin drops his candidacy, the only immediate effect of the proposal's passage would be that former prisoners of Zion Natan Sharansky and Yuli Edelstein would need the approval of a judge to be able to run for Knesset with the Likud.
According to the proposal, the head of the Likud's election committee, former Tel Aviv District Court judge Tzvi Cohen, will be in charge of deciding whether a crime involved "moral turpitude." Sharansky and Edelstein, who served jail time in the Soviet Union for their Zionism, are not expected to have a problem receiving Cohen's permission to run, but their hearings with Cohen could embarrass Netanyahu.
The Likud's interim legal adviser, Uri Ben-Atiya, said that whomever fits the definition of the proposal would automatically require the judge's permission to run. He said he was not sure whether a crime committed abroad met the definition, but he said that Sharansky and Edelstein would likely need a hearing with Cohen.