Netanyahu opens fire on future Likud contenders

Both Israel Katz and Nir Barkat have said they would run for Likud leader in the post-Netanyahu era but would not run against him. 

 Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu at his party faction meeting, December 13, 2021. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu at his party faction meeting, December 13, 2021.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu surprised members of his Likud Party late Tuesday night when he attacked two future Likud leadership contenders in a social media post.

Netanyahu’s criticism was about a group of nearly 10,000 Likud activists called the New Likudniks, whom he has been trying to purge from the party. The former prime minister believes the group is infiltrating the party in an attempt to shift it leftward, a charge the group’s leaders deny.

He targeted MK Israel Katz, who heads the Likud’s governing secretariat.

“I expected all members of Likud, including the heads of the party’s institutions, to struggle with full force against them and take action to remove them from the party,” Netanyahu wrote on his Telegram account. “Everyone did it, except for Israel Katz, who until today has and is doing the opposite. Whoever thinks that for a few votes they can endanger the future of the Likud and the future of all of us will find that more than 130,000 Likud members will not forgive them.”

Nir Barkat and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu present the Likud economic plan during a party event in Tel Aviv on February 16. (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)Nir Barkat and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu present the Likud economic plan during a party event in Tel Aviv on February 16. (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

In private conversations, Netanyahu also accused MK Nir Barkat of harming efforts to remove the New Likudniks from the party. He retweeted a tweet that accused Barkat of “lobbying” for them. Both Katz and Barkat have said they would run for Likud leader in the post-Netanyahu era but would not run against him.

It had not been previously known that there were tensions between Netanyahu and Katz or Barkat. Katz posted a picture of himself and his wife, Ronit, eating dinner with the prime minister and his wife, Sara, on Twitter three weeks ago.

Netanyahu called the New Likudniks “extremists who want to destroy the Likud from inside,” accusing them of supporting Labor, Meretz or the Joint List.

But the Likud’s internal court, which is usually loyal to Netanyahu, ruled that the New Likudniks cannot be removed from the party en masse and must be dealt with individually according to proper procedure.

The court rejected a decision by Likud director-general Tzuri Sisso, who is loyal to Netanyahu, to expel the New Likudniks on the basis of their posts on Facebook and what Likud branch heads have testified about them. There were branch heads who tried to expel their rivals in their branch by calling them New Likudniks.

Sources in the New Likudniks confirmed that they have made political deals resulting in them supporting Katz, Barkat and many other Likud MKs.

“This is all about Netanyahu’s control over the party,” a source in the New Likudniks said. “He wants everyone who doesn’t support him out of the party. If he wants us removed and it is not happening, it proves something interesting is happening in the Likud.”