At first it seemed like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might be defeated and publicly embarrassed in an internal Likud Party vote.
What seemed like the majority of Likud Central Committee members demanded complete power over the selection of the Likud’s Knesset list. They sought to undo the transfer of this right from the Central Committee to the Likud general membership, which was done at Netanyahu’s behest in 2006.
The prime minister opposed their demands, but on the issue of their own power, Central Committee members were willing to publicly oppose their leader.
The senior Likud ministers were mostly silent; reportedly, they refrained from backing Netanyahu because they were unhappy with their ministerial appointments.
But by the closing of the polls on Sunday evening, the prime minister had won a resounding victory. The proposal he endorsed won nearly 60 percent of the vote. He could smile and thank Central Committee members for keeping the party united and for voting for the good of the party. Upon hearing the results many Likud Central Committee members and activists, even some who had opposed Netanyahu, rejoiced.
Yet, despite this victory, as a result of Sunday’s vote the Likud Central Committee will have more power over the Likud’s Knesset faction than before, at the expense of the general membership.
Now the Likud Central Committee will choose the 10 candidates on the Likud’s list who previously were elected by the membership in 10 different electoral districts.
Though he ultimately adopted it, this was not a proposal that Netanyahu initiated or personally favored.
Netanyahu initially opposed all proposals that were brought to a vote. He wanted primaries to generally stay as they were. But faced with an uprising led by junior MK David Amsalem, a powerful member of the Central Committee, Netanyahu was forced to compromise to consolidate support behind an alternative proposal.
And even with this tactical move, and this offer to Central Committee members to control what is typically a third of the Likud’s Knesset list, nearly 40% of the Central Committee still voted against the prime minister in order to grant themselves even more power.
This was strong show of defiance to the prime minister, who was ultimately forced to give the Likud barons their Magna Carta.
The vote awarded more power to a body whose members are elected in what can only be nominally called democratic elections.
Elections for the Central Committee occur infrequently and are highly manipulated by vote contractors and interest groups, who pack the membership rolls with cronies and supporters ahead of the vote.
Members are to vote for what are practically slates, which in cases are comprised by over 100 candidates, many of whom ordinary members have never heard of and will never hear of. In some cases, deals are made between candidates which lead to the cancellation of elections in a given area.
Once elected Central Committee members have no duty toward those who elected them. Many of those voters, because of bureaucracy and membership fees, likely won’t be members whenever the next election is held.
It is therefore no wonder that approximately 40% of this body attempted to seize power and cancel the rights of those they ostensibly represent on the grounds that, as Rodney Dangerfield would lament, “they don’t get no respect.”
Now this body will choose approximately a third of the Likud’s list and the vast majority of new Likud candidates, as these “district” spots are traditionally reserved for new candidates.
This means that practically all new Likud MKs will be internal power-brokers or will owe their careers to such brokers. The deal-making culture of the Central Committee will be the party’s political culture, and it is likely that this is how these new MKs will continue to behave even when they are forced to compete with incumbents on the national list, where the deal-making system is present, but not as effective as it is in the Central Committee.
Having all the new candidates in their pocket, it will be easier for power brokers to impose their will on the rest of the Likud Knesset faction. With these new candidates, incumbent Likud MKs will face even stiffer competition for the affection of Central Committee members. And not having to spend time, energy and money to support themselves or their preferred candidate in the district elections, power brokers will be able to put their full resources toward influencing the composition of the rest of the Likud’s Knesset list.
So the Likud list, even the portion not chosen by the Central Committee, will be less reflective of the interests of those citizens who support the Likud and of the will of the nation as a whole.
This is not to say the prime minister was wrong to endorse what came to be called the “compromise proposal.”
After polling Central Committee members and influential branch council chairmen he saw that there was no other option, and took the most responsible course of action that could be taken.
In so doing, he averted a disaster for the Likud and Israel, in which another fourth of the Knesset would not be chosen democratically and which might have led to the same happening in the other two parties which allow their membership to choose candidates for Knesset.
But for those who care about the Likud, the rights of its members, the ability of the nation to choose its destiny and the principle that the public and not unseen and unaccountable power brokers should choose those who govern, the results of Sunday’s vote should be no cause for celebration.The author is a Likud Central Committee member, director of Likud Anglos and an attorney.