Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cemented his standing as the leader of the Israeli right after an unusual set of circumstances led to members of his party unanimously signing a document on Sunday promising that he is their only candidate for prime minister.
“Likud will not give into the manipulations of other parties who are trying to weaken the party with false spins,” Likud Tourism Minister Yariv Levin told JNS. “Voters need to know that if they want to ensure that a strong Netanyahu leads a right-wing government, then they must vote for Likud with Netanyahu as its clear leader.”
Widespread speculation since this campaign began involved the idea that perhaps, following the Sept. 17 elections, certain Likud members would seek to circumvent Netanyahu’s leadership and try to form a government without him. In particular, this specific pledge emerged after Avigdor Lieberman, chairman of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party, revealed that he would consider forming a government along with a member of Knesset in Likud other than Netanyahu.
Those rumors were put to rest when all 40 of Likud’s top candidates for Knesset, including those like former minister Knesset member Gideon Sa’ar, who doesn’t always see eye to eye with Netanyahu, signed the declaration, which said:
“We, who are signed below, candidates for Likud for the 22nd Knesset, emphasize that we will not be dictated to by any other party. Regardless of the election results, prime minister and Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu is the only Likud candidate for prime minister—and there will be no other candidate.”
Netanyahu responded to the 40 signatures by saying that “the Likud is more unified than ever. Thank you for the support.”
The initiative to have all Likud Knesset members and candidates sign the document was criticized by Likud’s opponents as a demand to pledge their loyalty, similar to a dictatorship. Moshe Ya’alon, former Israel Defense Forces’ chief of staff and former Likud defense minister who is now No. 3 on the Blue and White List, told JNS that “the demand for all Likud Knesset members to sign their support and allegiance to Netanyahu reminds me of the demand in North Korea that every citizen bow to all statues of their leader.”
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who is running for Knesset as part of the democratic Camp, tweeted that Likud members have become “Netanyahu’s puppets.” Labor chairman Amir Peretz went even further, tweeting that “Netanyahu’s paranoia has crossed all reasonable lines. Likud went from a national liberal party to a party prostrating to one man.”
Standing behind the man at the helm
Likud mocked these critics, pointing out that leaders of parties not chosen by the people via primaries and who chose their Knesset lists without primaries “are the last ones who should be criticizing the Likud, the largest and strongest party in Israel.” They referenced the behind-the-scenes bickering among the leaders of the Blue and White Party, and the struggles of Labor, which “changes chairpeople every two weeks.”
“They can only envy Likud members who stand behind the party chairman,” concluded the Likud statement.
Lieberman has been adamant that he will only support a religiously liberal, national-unity government that involves the Likud, Blue and White, and Yisrael Beiteinu. Blue and White says it will only agree to such a government if Likud is led by someone other than Netanyahu. The president of Israel is allowed to turn to any of the 120 Knesset members to give them the mandate to form a government majority of 61 Knesset members.
Lieberman told Channel 12 News that if there is a stalemate because Blue and White won’t support a unity government while Netanyahu leads the Likud, then he would turn to someone else to lead their party in a unity government, naming Likud Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein as a possible candidate for this role. Edelstein immediately distanced himself from this idea and declared that Netanyahu is his candidate for premier.
With this non-binding pledge signed by all those in the party, Netanyahu, who has become the sole face of the Likud campaign and the focus of their campaign slogan “Netanyahu—another league,” can ignore rumors of possible rebels from within his party with the assurance that, at least for now, his entire party is staunchly behind him.