Coalition, Likud rivals gang up on Barkat

A biill that is set to pass would limit billionaire MK Nir Barkat and his family to annual donations of 100,000

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to a Likud Party meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on Monday. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to a Likud Party meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on Monday.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's coalition and many Likud MKs have found themselves on the same side of a political battle for the first time, uniting against a common enemy: Likud MK Nir Barkat

A Panels Research poll taken for The Jerusalem Post Group last week found that Barkat could bring the Likud many more seats than other potential successors to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, including MKs Yuli Edelstein, Israel Katz and Miri Regev. Barkat is expected to run for Likud leader if Netanyahu decides not to run.

In an effort to harm Barkat politically, the coalition is expected to endorse the so-called anti-Barkat bill at Monday's meeting of the Ministerial Committee on Legislation. The bill was sponsored by Likud MK David Amsalem, who has been the coalition's harshest critic and has had a personal feud with Barkat for nearly two decades. It has been endorsed by Israel Katz and other MKs in the party. 

"The coalition is afraid of Nir, because he is the only one who can return the Likud to power, and that makes him their greatest threat," a source close to Barkat said. "They saw the poll and got worried. They are so scared they are cooperating with a man who has insinuated vicious attacks on [Justice Minister Gideon] Saar. Suddenly they don't have rifts anymore. The most important thing for them is to pass a bill against Nir Barkat."   

The bill would limit an elected official and his family to donations of NIS 100,000 a year for political activity, including polls, staff and rallies, when no elections are taking place. The bill defines family as a spouse, parents, brothers, inlaws and uncles. The legislation also requires contributions to be reported to the Knesset on a monthly basis.

MK NIR BARKAT inspects a document at Beit Abba alongside a portrait of Abba Ahimeir. (credit: Courtesy)MK NIR BARKAT inspects a document at Beit Abba alongside a portrait of Abba Ahimeir. (credit: Courtesy)

Barkat is by far the Knesset's wealthiest MK and its only billionaire. The bill lists its goal as preventing a political advantage for the wealthy or contributions impacting the decisions of elected officials. It says it is intended to promote equality among candidates.

Sources in the coalition said its apparent support for the bill had nothing to do with any poll or who proposed it. They noted that New Hope faction head Sharrren Haskel, who is close to Sa'ar, presented the same bill in the previous Knesset, when she was in Likud.

The Likud will have to decide whether to allow its MKs to vote their conscience on the bill or require faction discipline.

This is not the first bill changing how politicians raised money proposed by Amsalem. In January 2018, the passed into law Amsalem's Primaries Law, which facilitates state funding for party primaries and bans candidates from receiving contributions or taking out loans.

Thanks to the law, incumbent candidates receive funding for all their campaign expenses and new candidates will receive a loan from the state that they would not have to return if they enter the Knesset.

Until the law passed, parties received taxpayer funds for national elections, but candidates funded their races in party primaries on their own, taking donations from contributors locally and around the world.