Hanegbi's primary slump means end of an era at Likud - analysis

While once a rising star in the Likud, Hanegbi has been going downhill for a number of years.

CURRENT MINISTER-without-Portfolio Tzachi Hanegbi catches the ear of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset in 2016. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
CURRENT MINISTER-without-Portfolio Tzachi Hanegbi catches the ear of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset in 2016.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)

Long-time MK Tzachi Hanegbi is at the end of his long, winding political road.

While once a rising star in the Likud, Hanegbi has been going downhill for a number of years. In the 2015 primary, he finished eighth. In 2019, he finished 13th. And in Wednesday’s Likud primary, he sank to 25th place, with less than 16,000 out of the nearly 80,000 voters putting him down in their top 12.

He finished with half the votes of MK Miri Regev and a third of primary winner MK Yariv Levin’s.

Due to reserved spots on the Likud’s list, Hanegbi is officially No. 46, which, for all intents and purposes, means he will watch the next election from the sidelines. He could still attempt a comeback in the future, but at age 65, and with Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu still going strong and promoting other candidates, this seems unlikely.

Is this the end of Tzachi Hanegbi?

Hanegbi leaving the Knesset symbolizes the end of an era.

His parents were fighters in the Jewish underground, and he himself was a symbol of a right-wing firebrand. During his student days at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, he was convicted for participating in a violent brawl against Arab students, and he positioned himself on top of a war monument during the evacuation of Yamit and the Sinai Peninsula in 1982.

 MK TZACHI HANEGBI of the Likud, co-chair of the Knesset Caucus for US-Israel Relations, which convenes lawmakers for conversations on the most pressing issues in Israel-American Jewry ties. (credit: FLASH90) MK TZACHI HANEGBI of the Likud, co-chair of the Knesset Caucus for US-Israel Relations, which convenes lawmakers for conversations on the most pressing issues in Israel-American Jewry ties. (credit: FLASH90)

Hanegbi served as chief of staff for prime minister Yitzhak Shamir. He joined the Knesset in 1988 as part of the Likud, serving as an MK almost continuously since then, save for a hiatus between 2010 and 2013 after being convicted for giving false testimony in an investigation into alleged violations of election-funding rules. He also served as a minister for just about everything and as head of nearly every important Knesset committee.

Hanegbi tried to adapt to the new atmosphere in the Likud in recent years, which included sharper criticism of law enforcement and the legal system as well as polarizing rhetoric and public displays of loyalty to Netanyahu. Hanegbi was one of the MKs wearing a mask standing in the background during Netanyahu’s famous speech outside of the courtroom at the beginning of his trial.

Out with the old, in with the new

But it was too little, too late. Hanegbi is a symbol of the previous generation of the Likud – with family links rooted deep in Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s and former prime minister Menachem Begin’s Revisionist Zionism.

The soft-spoken Hanegbi is no longer an asset for the Likud – which, as the recent primary showed, rewards MKs who are boisterous, aggressive and sometimes vulgar.

Hanegbi’s tweet on Thursday as the results began to crystallize was perhaps a final testament to his character.

“The members of the movement wisely chose both experienced and new men and women who represent the Right with talent, and who bravely and successfully led tenacious public battles in the Knesset and outside of it,” he wrote. “I thank everyone who voted for me and assisted me, and even if I don’t end up in a realistic place on the list, I know you made a great effort on my behalf. The new Likud list is an excellent launch point for a successful election campaign and to the victory of the Likud led by Benjamin Netanyahu in the upcoming election!”