Ministers stay away from Likud rally

Likud ministers agree to Netanyahu's request "not to create a perception of a rift in the party."

binyamin netanyahu cabinet 248 88 (photo credit: AP)
binyamin netanyahu cabinet 248 88
(photo credit: AP)
None of the Likud ministers attended a much-hyped rally organized by Likud hawks at the party's Tel Aviv headquarters on Wednesday, after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu asked them not to show up in order "not to create a perception of a rift in the party." Even Likud MKs were largely absent, with only Danny Danon, Tzipi Hotovely, Yariv Levin and Miri Regev attending, the latter of whom made a brief appearance and spoke in support of Netanyahu. The meeting was initially organized to put pressure on Netanyahu to not freeze settlement construction in Judea and Samaria. But the prime minister succeeded in toning down the event by announcing permits for 455 homes in the West Bank and by pressuring Likud ministers and MKs to express their loyalty to him in their speeches. Officials close to the prime minister expressed satisfaction that the much talked about rebellion inside the Likud had been quelled even before it started. They said the event would end up being anti-climactic. "Netanyahu proved that he knows how to bring results politically, and everyone saw it now," one official said. "Almost everyone who speaks at the rally will back the prime minister and stand by him." Before declaring their decision not to appear at the rally several hours before the meeting, four Likud cabinet members had been expected to headline the event: Environment Minister Gilad Erdan, Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon, Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein, and Governmental Services Minister Michael Eitan. The other vice premier, Moshe Ya'alon, did not attend because he was the featured speaker at the same time at an event marking the 25th anniversary of the Eli settlement in Samaria. Danon, who has been the lawmaker most openly critical of the prime minister, had said the event already succeeded because it pressured Netanyahu to announce the new permits for construction and it led to relatively moderate ministers coming out against the freeze. "Even if people say at the rally that they don't want to harm the prime minister, we started a process inside the Likud that already impacts everything the prime minister does," Danon said. Event organizer Natan Engelsman said it would strengthen the prime minister and encourage unity in the party. He said he resisted efforts to move the rally away from the party headquarters, even after the event outgrew the small room in the dilapidated building where it will be held, because of the symbolism of having the meeting there. Rightist Likud activist Moshe Feiglin and his loyalists also didn't attend. He said it was because the organizers did not want to let him speak and give the event an image of being anti-Netanyahu. But the organizers said Feiglin had demanded to be treated as a minister. Feiglin said the organizers were repeating the mistakes of their failed attempts to prevent the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005. "I was elected to the Knesset and was only prevented from becoming an MK because of Bibi's stinking maneuvers against me," he said. "They don't want Feiglin, but they want Feiglin's people, and it doesn't work that way. If I am invited to an event, it means I'm speaking. I won't be sidelined because [the organizers] are afraid of Bibi."