Meet Benjamin Netanyahu's potential successors to head Likud

With nine candidates running, Israel's next prime minister could be elected by the fewest people ever.

 OPPOSITION LEADER Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset last week. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
OPPOSITION LEADER Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset last week.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Plenty of people were angry that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett came to power despite winning only 273,836 votes for his Yamina Party in the last election.

The next prime minister could be decided by only 150,000 votes, the current membership of the Likud Party, if Benjamin Netanyahu decides to sign a plea bargain that would require him to leave politics for at least seven years.

The party’s paid membership would be responsible for choosing a new Likud leader who could have a relatively easy time forming a government in the current Knesset.

With as many as nine candidates running, it is inevitable that there will be a run-off race among the top two finishers. Depending on turnout, it is possible to earn a spot in that run-off race with a tenth of the votes Bennett won and become prime minister. So why not run? The following candidates (in alphabetical order) intend to try:

Nir Barkat (credit: Courtesy)Nir Barkat (credit: Courtesy)

Nir Barkat, 62

The former Jerusalem mayor is the leading candidate in the polls. He has built himself up as a worldly figure who can talk to the international community in perfect English and is ready to be prime minister. Barkat, unlike other candidates, can bring the Likud many mandates from other parties, polls show. Having a hi-tech fortune of more than one billion dollars at his disposal could not hurt.

 Defense Committee chairman Avi Dichter (Likud) August 8, 2018. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) Defense Committee chairman Avi Dichter (Likud) August 8, 2018. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Avi Dichter, 69

The only serious security figure in the race, as the former head of the Shin-Bet security service. As the oldest candidate in the race, he looks prime ministerial. It also helps that he has no significant political enemies.

But he also does not have enough support inside the party, and his background in Kadima will not help him.

 YULI EDELSTEIN – his message was that there is no reason to think that if Netanyahu leads the party again, he will have any more success in forming a government than he did the last four times.  (credit: Yonatan Zendel/Flash90) YULI EDELSTEIN – his message was that there is no reason to think that if Netanyahu leads the party again, he will have any more success in forming a government than he did the last four times. (credit: Yonatan Zendel/Flash90)

Yuli Edelstein, 63

The final prisoner of Zion to leave the Soviet Union, he showed courage by being willing to run against Netanyahu and by taking the Health portfolio during a pandemic. He has the statesmanlike experience of being Knesset speaker. Like Barkat, he speaks perfect English and can form a government immediately. As the husband of an oligarch’s daughter he has no problem financing a campaign.

 Ambassador Gilad Erdan October 19, 2021 (credit: COURTESY ISRAEL'S UN MISSION IN NEW YORK) Ambassador Gilad Erdan October 19, 2021 (credit: COURTESY ISRAEL'S UN MISSION IN NEW YORK)

Gilad Erdan, 51

The ambassador to the United Nations has the great disadvantage of not living in Israel and not being a Knesset member, which would legally prevent him from forming a government.

If Erdan would become Likud leader, he would have to force a Knesset election that almost no MKs want. But he also has stayed above the fray as an outsider, which makes him untainted and clean.

 Netanyahu signing a plea agreement would save Erdan from testifying against him. He is on the prosecution’s witness list in Case 4000, due to his ousting as communication’s minister. He has gained diplomatic experience in Washington and New York and is young enough to wait patiently to win.

Leader of Zehut Moshe Feiglin (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)Leader of Zehut Moshe Feiglin (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)

Moshe Feiglin, 59

The former Zehut Party leader recently returned to Likud. “If Netanyahu leaves and they shorten the minimum membership requirement, I intend to run,” he said Sunday. Feiglin’s vocal opposition to vaccination could harm him and paint him as an extremist. Like Erdan, he is not an MK.

Minister Tzahi Hanegbi speaks during the funeral of Hodaya Asulin, in the West Bank settlement of Mevo Horon. Asulin was severly injured in a terror attack in 2011 and never regained consciousness following the attack. She died earlier today on November 22, 2017.  (credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)Minister Tzahi Hanegbi speaks during the funeral of Hodaya Asulin, in the West Bank settlement of Mevo Horon. Asulin was severly injured in a terror attack in 2011 and never regained consciousness following the attack. She died earlier today on November 22, 2017. (credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)

Tzachi Hanegbi, 64

Has the most Knesset experience, getting elected first in 1988 and serving as justice minister in Netanyahu’s first cabinet in 1996. He also has decades of diplomatic experience and strong ties with both Democratic and Republican administrations in Washington. He even raised his children in English.

But he does not have the support in Likud that he had when he headed its central committee before leaving for Kadima.

 Likud MK Israel Katz speaks during a Conference of Heads of Local Authorities, in Ramat Negev, southern Israel, July 22, 2021.  (credit: FLASH90) Likud MK Israel Katz speaks during a Conference of Heads of Local Authorities, in Ramat Negev, southern Israel, July 22, 2021. (credit: FLASH90)

Israel Katz, 66

The former foreign minister and finance minister has the most senior ministerial experience. He also has the longest tenure in Likud and the most connections in the Likud central committee, which could help him at least become temporary head of the party. But his English is not good enough and Netanyahu has battled him lately.

Likud MK Miki Zohar blasted him for announcing his candidacy. “Hold your horses,” Zohar said: “We are in the most critical moments of Netanyahu, the Right and the Likud. Such declarations and explanations don’t help anyone. A little patience wouldn’t hurt.”

Acting Justice Minister Amir Ohana speaks at a Shurat Hadin conference, Jerusalem, February 5, 2020  (credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)Acting Justice Minister Amir Ohana speaks at a Shurat Hadin conference, Jerusalem, February 5, 2020 (credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)

Amir Ohana, 45

The youngest candidate, and arguably the closest to Netanyahu and his family. Ohana has quickly become very popular with the Likud’s Sephardi masses who cheer him like a celebrity whenever he enters a Likud rally. A former justice and public security minister, he speaks forcefully against the legal establishment.

But he cannot win the support of anti-Netanyahu members, and he was tainted by his role in the Meron disaster.

TRANSPORTATION MINISTER Miri Regev resorted to making threats that took advantage of the power she wields from her position in the government. This is a criminal offense, and it needs to be stopped.  (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)TRANSPORTATION MINISTER Miri Regev resorted to making threats that took advantage of the power she wields from her position in the government. This is a criminal offense, and it needs to be stopped. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Miri Regev, 56

The only woman in the race. She said Sunday that whoever gets elected will unite the party, speaking in the feminine tense. In a controversial interview five months ago, she told Yediot Aharonot that Likud members should stop voting for “white people” and vote for her due to her Sephardic roots and her deprived background.

Regev was born in the southern development town of Kiryat Gat to immigrants from Morocco, Felix and Marcelle Siboni. “The time has come to have a Sephardi prime minister,” Regev said. “I think the Likud rank and file must vote this time for someone who represents their class, their ethnicity and their agenda.”