PM advisers deny meddling in Habayit Hayehudi race

Former chief of staff Bennett accuses Netanyahu of interfering in leadership race to ensure his defeat.

Habayit Hayehudi English debate 370 (photo credit: Yehoshua Sigala)
Habayit Hayehudi English debate 370
(photo credit: Yehoshua Sigala)
Current and former advisers to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu vigorously denied charges from his former chief of staff Naftali Bennett Wednesday that Netanyahu is interfering in the Habayit Hayehudi leadership race in an effort to ensure his defeat.
Bennett’s associates said the prime minister received a poll that found that under Bennett’s leadership, a combined Habayit Hayehudi-National Union ticket would win 12 seats. They said that since then, Netanyahu’s advisers and political allies in Likud have tried to help Bennett’s opponent, MK Zevulun Orlev, while issuing anonymous statements to the media bashing Bennett.
“Bibi [Netanyahu] is dealing with the Habayit Hayehudi race obsessively,” Bennett’s campaign said. “Netanyahu is working against us, because he knows we will take seats from the Likud.”Bennett's campaign said he had nothing personal against Netanyahu, noting that he went to the prime minister’s residence for his father Benzion’s shiva.
The Netanyahu advisers admitted that the prime minister and his wife Sara do not like Bennett personally and that his tenure as chief of staff ended on bad terms. But they said he was too busy dealing with Iran and trying to pass the next state budget to interfere in Habayit Hayehudi.
The advisers said that if people who work with Netanyahu have gotten involved in Habayit Hayehudi, they are doing it for their own personal reasons. For instance, Netanyahu’s unofficial close adviser Natan Eshel has been a close friend of Orlev’s for 40 years.
The prime minister’s chief of staff Gil Shefer and his parliamentary assistant Perach Lerner are both former aides to Orlev.
Bennett’s advisers cited as an example of Netanyahu’s interference Orlev’s invitation to an event in Jerusalem on religious Zionist education in which Netanyahu and Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar spoke. But Orlev said Bennet was unaware that Orlev himself organized that event and invited the prime minister.
Responding to charges from Bennett’s campaign that Sa’ar was working against him, a Likud source said Sa’ar had a personal dispute with Bennett going back several years and he was not acting under orders from the prime minister.
A Likud source who sparred with Bennett in the past said he had a lot of enemies. Denying statements from Bennett that he helped Netanyahu get elected prime minister, the Likud source said Bennett had harmed the prime minister when he worked for him.
“Bennett leaves scorched earth behind him wherever he goes,” the Likud source said.
“People in Habayit Hayehudi are pro-Bibi, and he’s trying to heat things up and start a fight. It’s a bad idea, and it won’t work.”
Bennett’s campaign responded that the Likud source should speak publicly, “not like thieves that steal in the night and flee.”
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report