Storm set to mar Likud leadership contest

The weather across the country is expected to result in a low turnout in the race

IF IT takes another round of elections to get the Likud to act, let it be.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
IF IT takes another round of elections to get the Likud to act, let it be.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The 116,048 members of Likud will be eligible to vote in their assigned polling station among 106 across the country in today’s Likud leadership race between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his challenger MK Gideon Sa’ar.
But the stormy weather across the country is expected to result in a low turnout in the race, as will a Likud court’s decision to require the members to vote only in their Likud branch’s polling station.
Netanyahu continued his strategy of conducting multiple rallies in different communities, this time in Kibbutz Zimrat, Ofakim and in Ashkelon, where he left the stage due to a rocket attack and came back and said “the Hamas does not want me to win.” Recalling that he was forced from the stage at a campaign rally in Ashdod a week before the September 17 election, he said that the terrorist who fired that rocket “is no longer with us,” referring to assassinated Islamic Jihad leader Baha Abu al-ata, and added that whoever fired this rocket “should gather his belongings.”
He also sent out a message reaching out to Russian-speaking Likud members on social media. “I want people to cast ballots for me as a vote of confidence in the way I have led the country,” Netanyahu said in an interview with Army Radio. “The primaries are first stage and a vote of confidence in me will give me a huge boost toward victory in the elections for the Knesset.” Sa’ar called voters from his campaign headquarters in Tel Aviv and criticized Netanyahu at the Maariv newspaper’s leadership conference in Herzliya.
Sa’ar said at the conference, “There is a significant amount of people who agree with our policies but are distanced by [the prime minister’s legal problems].” Sa’ar said that change was needed in Likud and that the race was wide open. “The time has come to rescue the country from the torture of additional rounds of elections and for the political system to start helping the citizens of Israel instead of helping themselves,” Sa’ar told the crowd at the conference.
Sa’ar accused the prime minister’s entourage and supporters of running a negative campaign. “Dear friends, in the last hours and days, unfortunately, the other side is spreading extreme fake news: lies, slander and even racist statements,” Sa’ar wrote on his Facebook page. “This is not our path. This is not the Likud way.” Sa’ar was referring – in part – to a statement made by Culture Minister Miri Regev who backs Netanyahu, who referred to Sa’ar’s Bukharan heritage (Sa’ar’s mother is half-Bukharan).
“We won’t let the Bukharans win,” she said. Regev responded to Sa’ar’s charges of racism by saying, “Out of desperation, the Sa’ar campaign is taking humor and calling it racism.”
Likud MK Nir Barkat called upon Sa’ar to engage in “soul-searching” for forcing what he called “an unnecessary primary whose results are known in advance.”
Speaking at the Maariv conference in Herzliya, Barkat said Sa’ar “took an opportunistic step that harmed the prime minister at one of the toughest times for him.” In a blow to Sa’ar, the New Likudniks group that numbers thousands of Likud members decided not to endorse either candidate in Thursday’s primary. The group criticized Sa’ar for not speaking out against corruption and for supporting allowing religious groups to operate in state secular schools.
Rossella Tercatin contributed to this report.