Likud voters celebrate primary election, results expected on Thursday

With Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu occupying the number one spot on the list, some 70 national candidates and 40 regional candidates are vying for the remaining 34 seats.

 Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu casts his vote at the Likud primaries, August 10, 2022 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu casts his vote at the Likud primaries, August 10, 2022
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Likud primary voters were welcomed at the Jerusalem voting headquarters on Wednesday by an avenue of booths promoting the different candidates, complete with flyers, balloons and loudspeakers blasting speeches and chants.

Voters trying to enter the International Convention Center had to work their way through a throng of people that included MK Tzachi Hanegbi, candidates Fleur Hassan-Nahoum and Dan Illouz, as activists promoting a dozen others tried to catch voters’ attention, pull them into a conversation or shove an array of flyers into their hands.

A blue balloon the size of a small car floated over one of the stands promoting MK Shlomo Karhi. It displayed a picture of Karhi and Netanyahu next to each other and the sentence, “Netanyahu needs a strong Karhi.”

The festive atmosphere included two people on stilts wearing shirts supporting MK Yariv Levin, one a salsa dancer and the other an actor. Neither are Likud members, but they were being paid by Levin and said they did not mind spending the day on stilts.

Rhythmic hassidic songs blasting from loudspeakers competed with people shouting their candidate’s names into megaphones. Calls for the Mincha afternoon prayer were announced multiple times.

 Voting in the Likud primaries (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM) Voting in the Likud primaries (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

A group of teenagers belonging to the “Land of Israel” lobby, which supports annexation of the West Bank, danced and sang when MKs who were friendly to their cause appeared. They sang especially loud for former Likud MK and UN ambassador Danny Danon, lifting him onto their shoulders.

At a nearby table were the renowned Likud “organizers,” activists who were able to recruit voters in organized groups in order to support specific candidates. The organizers prepared mock ballots for their groups with their 12 “recommendations” filled in, so that all the voters had to do was take the mock ballots and copy them row by row in the ballot booth. Most of these organizers were middle-aged men who have been doing this for decades.

Aside from the calls for Mincha, the atmosphere at voting headquarters at Tel Aviv Expo were the same.

The atmosphere at both sites was festive, chaotic and joyful; but rather than showing a sense of urgency that the right-wing bloc was in danger, the event seemed to be following a hidden script in which the results were a foregone conclusion.

Still, some voters expressed what may represent new trends in Israel’s largest party.

No anti-Netanyahu sentiments were expressed publicly, but some voters admitted in person that they think the former prime minister had become a problem, and not just because of his legal proceedings.

"Netanyahu is the most left-wing MK in the Likud"

Likud voter

Netanyahu is the most left-wing MK in the Likud,” said a voter named Erez, after casting his ballot in Tel Aviv. A 64-year-old former executive in a car rental company and currently a retiree freelancing as a taxi driver, Erez begrudgingly said he still supported Netanyahu, because no one could match him. But other old-timers were left out.

“I voted for those who fought,” Erez said. He mentioned Galit Distal Atbaryan as an example, as well as Dudi Amsalem, Shlomo Karhi and newcomer Boaz Bismuth.

 Likud supporters outside the Likud polling station in Jerusalem on August 10, 2022, Likud members go today to the polls to vote for the party list. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Likud supporters outside the Likud polling station in Jerusalem on August 10, 2022, Likud members go today to the polls to vote for the party list. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Indeed, this election could continue a trend in the Likud where older, “statesmanlike” MKs are pushed out of key positions and eventually down the party list, being replaced by candidates who are younger, more boisterous and use far more aggressive and demeaning rhetoric. Perhaps most importantly, they are completely devoted to Bibi and not afraid to show it.

Erez said some of the “old-timers,” such as Hanegbi, have run out of energy and it was time for new blood. Hanegbi, Miri Regev and Israel Katz were noticeably not on his list. However, the old-timers also had organized groups voting for them in what Likud jargon are called “deals.” Israel Katz had the support of one of the largest groups, the Israel Aerospace Industry Union. This was enough of a boost. Katz will become an MK in any case, reasoned Erez, so why waste a vote on him?

Despite being part of the older generation, the ex-security leaders in the Likud – including former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Avi Dichter and retired Gen. Yoav Gallant – still earn the respect of many voters. They were also both on Erez’s list.

With so many “deals” going down before the election, the prolific wheelers and dealers still have an edge. Organizers said this is how it has been done in the Likud for decades, and this is how it will continue to be done. But with Netanyahu at the helm, perhaps this primary will end up being not so different after all.