Likud MKs try to stop Nir Barkat in leadership race

Former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat is in the race to replace opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu — But some MKs are trying to stop him.

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

Ahead of a possible Likud leadership race to replace opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, Likud MKs endorsed a bill on Sunday aimed at harming the candidacy of Knesset member and former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat.

Barkat has finished first in polls asking Likud members who they would like to see lead the party in the post-Netanyahu era. He has said he would not challenge the former prime minister but would run when Netanyahu quits politics.

Likud MK David Amsalem, who has feuded with Barkat for over a decade, proposed a bill that would limit spending in primaries to NIS 100,000, much less than would likely be spent by Barkat, the Knesset’s wealthiest MK.

Barkat’s fortune is already valued in the hundreds of millions of shekels. He is about to earn hundreds of millions more soon when the fintech company eToro, of which he and his brother own 10%, will be listed on Nasdaq with a valuation of $10 billion.

NIR BARKAT at a rally supporting him on Thursday night, June 10 2021 (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/ MAARIV)NIR BARKAT at a rally supporting him on Thursday night, June 10 2021 (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/ MAARIV)

“After Barkat went around the country spending millions of shekels, he will run in primaries, and that is not reasonable,” Amsalem said. “He wants to take over Likud as if it was a stock with money from the Virgin Islands, but Likud members are smarter than that, and they are not blinded by a guest who joins the party, even if they have a lot of money.”

Sources close to Barkat responded that Amsalem was just angry that Barkat did not promote him when Barkat was Jerusalem's mayor and Amsalem headed a city department. They said the support from Likud MKs for the bill was proof that they saw Barkat as the leading candidate to replace Netanyahu and that Amsalem’s effort against his party colleague would backfire.

Likely Likud leadership candidate Israel Katz endorsed the bill in an interview with Ynet, saying that the limit was sensible and was not aimed personally against any particular candidate. Another leadership candidate, MK Tzachi Hanegbi, said he was undecided and would wait to see what the Likud faction would decide.

It is possible that the coalition could support Amsalem’s bill. A spokesman for Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar said New Hope faction head Sharren Haskel proposed a similar bill in the previous Knesset when she was in Likud and that Sa’ar supported her bill.