Netanyahu's associates see Feilin as a pest who prevents the chairman from focusing on the next general election.
By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu succeeded in preventing his main party rival, MK Silvan Shalom, from challenging him for the Likud leadership, but he has not succeeded in shaking off Likud activist Moshe Feiglin.
Feiglin gave a lengthy speech at Tuesday's Likud central committee meeting announcing his candidacy. He ended the speech by saying that he was convinced that if he wins the race, Netanyahu and the rest of the Likud would rally behind him.
Netanyahu's associates regard Feiglin as a pest preventing him from focusing on preparing for the next general election. They said they would not devote time and resources to fighting him.
But Likud MKs expressed concern on Wednesday that a strong finish from Feiglin could damage the party and hinder its ability to win support from former Kadima voters. They said that if less than half the Likud's 115,000 eligible members vote, Feiglin could embarrass Netanyahu by winning more than 30 percent of the vote.
"With the right kind of manipulation, Feiglin could get high numbers," said Likud MK Limor Livnat, who has led a campaign against Feiglin in the party. "The only way to stop him is to take the election seriously. Saying you don't have to vote would be a big mistake, because Feiglin will get inflated numbers and that could hurt the Likud."
Livnat accused Feiglin and his supporters in the Likud's Manhigut Yehudit [Jewish Leadership] forum of trying to overtake the party and impose their religious values on it. She said she proved that Feiglin's supporters did not vote for the party.
MK Yisrael Katz, who heads the Likud's governing secretariat, agreed that "the solution is getting people to vote" and joked that another candidate needed to be found to take support away from Feiglin.
"If he gets 30%, it would be a real story and people will try to put labels on the Likud, but I don't see it happening," Katz said.
Sources close to Netanyahu expressed concern that Shalom could aid Feiglin to take revenge against Netanyahu. But another Netanyahu loyalist said that "if Silvan had that kind of impact, he would have decided to run himself."
Shalom's associates laughed at the charges.
Netanyahu's associates formally responded that "the Likud is a democratic party and anyone who meets the criteria can run." They said that "the Labor race with five candidates getting decided by 175 people in an isolated Druse village was not better."
Feiglin said Shalom had not made contact with him. He said the fears of him in the faction were based on a mistaken notion that the Likud needed to move away from the Right in order to succeed.
"The Likud has fallen [to 12 seats] because of a mistaken approach that to get many mandates we need to move to the center, stop being ourselves and become something we are not," Feiglin said. "I don't think it's right to follow the trend, go to the Left and stop being us. Livnat doesn't understand that the wider public wants the Likud to not be afraid to be what it really is."
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