Ahead of primary, Likud battle over reserved spots for newbies heats up

While Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu is in London, party members reportedly blame him for a push to change how first-time district-based Knesset candidates are selected

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu during an inauguration ceremony of a new neighborhood in Beit El, in the West Bank, July 12, 2022. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu during an inauguration ceremony of a new neighborhood in Beit El, in the West Bank, July 12, 2022. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

As campaigning heats up ahead of the Likud primaries in August, the party is debating whether to change how key spots reserved for first-time Knesset members are contested.

Although Likud is one of the few parties to hold primaries, many of the spots on its list are nevertheless reserved for specific types of candidates. Ten of the seats on the party’s roster are dedicated to first-time lawmakers from regional districts, and these candidates are chosen only by the approximately 4,000 members of the party’s Central Committee.

The Knesset’s largest party has a long tradition of bringing in “new blood” through the districts, according to party sources. MKs who prove their chops during their first term move on to be among the party’s most prominent lawmakers.

The party’s internal court accepted a petition on the matter on Saturday evening that would change the way those reserved spots are decided. According to court documents, the petition seeks to return district-spot election power to Likud’s 140,000 registered voters, which was the way they were elected until a 2015 amendment to the party constitution shifted power to the Central Committee.

While the Likud court accepted the appeal and instructed the party’s legal adviser “to take all the necessary steps to implement” it before the primaries, a source close to Likud Constitutional Committee chair Haim Katz said the decision is far from final.

In addition to more hearings scheduled this week, the source says that the Likud court cannot itself force a change in the Likud constitution, and a legal question remains as to whether a change can be made without Katz’s committee’s approval.

Likud’s Constitutional Committee Chair Haim Katz arrives at the Magistrate’s Court in Rishon Lezion, February 7, 2022. (Flash90)

Former Likud comptroller Shai Galili reportedly sent a separate petition on Sunday morning, in which he alleged that the Likud court’s ruling was swayed by “political” considerations, specifically claiming that they would favor former Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Hebrew daily Maariv.

As reported in Maariv, Galili’s petition stated that “the ruling was given on the basis of political and foreign considerations, in order to fulfill the party chairman’s wishes (in line with what he expressed in the most recent Constitutional Committee meeting).”

Additionally, Galili wrote that changing election rules on the eve of the primary was motivated to “block the chances of some of the candidates who are not to his [Netanyahu’s] liking.”

Among the controversial candidates competing for a spot is David Laniado, who served a year in prison in 2011 for breaking and entering. Channel 12 estimated on Thursday that Laniado might have a “good chance” of getting on the Likud list, if district spots continue to be determined by Central Committee members.

It is not immediately clear what potential benefit Netanyahu would gain, but Hebrew media reports suggested the move could weaken Likud lawmakers Katz and David Bitan, who are both influential among the Central Committee members.

A spokesperson for Katz said that he was “not personally hurt” by an attempt to change the electoral method. Bitan was not immediately available for comment.

Party leader Netanyahu is currently in London to meet with British politicians and speak at a think tank, and has been publicly silent on the district-spots electoral issue.

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