1. Winner winner, chicken dinner: As expected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu easily swept to victory in the Likud leadership primary, defeating challenger Gideon Sa’ar 72.5 percent to 27.5%.
- Sa’ar had been hoping to cross the 30% threshold to at least show that Netanyahu’s grip on the party wasn’t ironclad and fell short of even that goal.
- “The wide margin of his victory, though again never really in doubt, also underlines that the overwhelming majority of the Likud’s Knesset faction, its prominent local leaders and activists, and the party machine, remain steadfastly behind him. Fourteen years after he regained the party leadership, and a decade after he returned to the Prime Minister’s Office, ‘Only Bibi’ remains the Likud loyalists’ mantra,” writes Times of Israel editor David Horovitz.
- Walla’s Tal Shalev writes that Sa’ar’s results only slightly surpassed those of Moshe Feiglin and Danny Danon before him, placing him in the same league of also-rans.
- “The final results don’t make Sa’ar into Netanyahu’s natural successor, but rather into the latest of a series of Likud members who have tried to challenge Netanyahu over the last decade and who led the anti-Bibi camp within the Likud, which has historically been made up of about a quarter of the members.”
- “It’s his Likud,” Ynet says of Netanyahu.
- “Netanyahu wins: ‘Massive victory,” exults Israel Hayom in a massive headline on its front page.
2. This isn’t the last you’ll see of ol’ Gideon: Some, though, see the results as keeping Sa’ar in the game and exposing very real cracks in Likud.
- Channel 12’s Amit Segal predicts that if he does form the next government, Netanyahu will have no choice but to appoint Sa’ar to a senior government position, given his popularity.
- Speaking to Army Radio, Ramat Gan mayor and Sa’ar supporter Carmel Shamah-Hacohen writes that support for Sa’ar among local party bosses will need to be contended with: “Netanyahu can’t ignore them when putting together a government. Not bringing them in will make things hard for Likud.”
- Pundit Ben Caspit tells Radio 103 that despite the big win “Let’s not forget that we have today not just Gideon Sa’ar but the Sa’ar camp, and I predict that this camp will not break up and is not going anywhere.”
- “I think this is the first sign of the end of the regime of fear and terror,” he adds, becoming the latest in a long, long list of those who have called some event or another the beginning of the end for Netanyahu.
3. Get out the panic: Channel 13 news notes that Sa’ar managed to only carry 7 of 106 ballot stations across the country. While Netanyahu only won by a couple hundred votes in Tel Aviv, in Jerusalem, he smushed Sa’ar 2,401 to 611.
- Yedioth Ahronoth reports that fears that rainy weather would keep voters away proved unfounded, with almost 50 percent coming out to cast ballots, normal for a primary. Nonetheless, Netanyahu spent much of his day at a call center being filmed phoning party members and urging them to vote. At one point, he was heard trying to arrange a babysitter for a supporter who didn’t want to bring her kid in the rain to the polling station.
- “It what has become routine during this election-filled period, those around Netanyahu telegraphed real panic throughout the day. Briefings given by those around him talked about low turnout numbers which won’t surpass 40 percent. That’s despite the fact that in comparison to past primaries, the turnout percentage was reasonable,” Yedioth reports.
- A twitter account belonging to a user named “Freddie the bear,” jokes “Worry in the Netanyahu camp: the percentage of deception lower than normal,” mimicking headlines on turnout that typically metastasize across the Hebrew media landscape on election days thanks to this or that spin doctor.
4. Storm of democracy: The rain was a topic of conversation throughout the day, and ToI’s Raoul Wootliff reports that many of those who did slog out were miffed by unclear opening times and rules forcing them to travel far away in order to vote.
- “I won’t be able to vote now. There is no way I can get to the polling station. Certainly not in this weather,” says one Likud member who found out she is registered in Rishon Lezion, some 10 kilometers away. “I’ve barely ever even been there, let alone lived there,” she says.
- Yet he reports that even despite a dirty campaign, the atmosphere in the Tel Aviv polling station he visited remained calm in contrast to the storms outside.
- No so in Beit Shemesh, where Sa’ar’s English-language spokesman Jason Pearlman says a Netanyahu supporter told him to return to his native UK. Challenged on video, the supporter only offers a baffling “I am Maccabi Tel Aviv.”
- Other Sa’ar supporters also reported getting nasty text messages warning that people who don’t vote Netanyahu are traitors, and the like, though Netanyahu’s camp blamed them on a false flag attack meant to tar their side.
- In Netanyahu-supporting Israel Hayom, columnist Eitan Orkabi writes that the primary as a display of “democracy in all its most glorious abundance,” poking fun at parties on the center and left that don’t have primaries. His larger point, about the importance of “letting the people decide,” dovetails overtly with Netanyahu’s campaign against letting the courts decide his fate.
5. Oh, the immunity! A December 31 hearing on whether the president can task a lawmaker with an indictment as prime minister is now looming and being seen through the lens of the big win.
- Reuven Hazan, a political science professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, tells the Associated Press that the court is now likely to defer any ruling, potentially even until after the elections.
- “They understand that if he wins big tonight and they turn around and say he cannot be prime minister, then although they’ve done their job, which is to make the right legal decision, that they will be in political turmoil that could rip the elections apart,” Hazan is quoted saying before the primary results were announced.
- And on January 2, Netanyahu will have to say whether or not he wants immunity.
- Likud’s Miki Zohar is quoted in Israel Hayom as saying that the results “provide an answer on whether he should seek immunity.”
- Speaking to Radio 103, Netanyahu backer David Bitan says that if Sa’ar or any of his cronies dare object to Netanyahu asking for immunity “they are done in the Likud.”
- Haaretz’s Yossi Verter writes that Netanyahu wanted to make sure to have the primary before his likely immunity request, but it’s a lose-lose situation anyway. He can drop the matter, and be whisked into court, or make the request, show himself to be a liar, and break yet more precedents.
- “ A candidate for prime minister who is under indictment and requests immunity for himself is something we’ve never had in these parts. It’s hard to see how he, with all his sophisticated campaigning abilities, can make this situation work in his favor,” he writes.
6. The right stuff: Verter also notes that Netanyahu doesn’t really have any more voters to rely on in the March election, as those who left Likud in disgust over his indictments aren’t about to come flocking back.
- But Zman Yisrael’s Shalom Yerushalmi writes that Netanyahu can still look to the rest of the right for support: “Netanyahu mission is get another 300,000 right-wing voters out of the house, in order to fight the prosecution’s ‘coup.’ This is his last chance. Yesterday he passed his first test with a good grade: 72.5”
- He got an ever better grade, in the settlements, notes Makor Rishon’s Shirit Avitan Cohen. In Beit El, Netanyahu won 103-27 and in the rest of the settlements in the Binyamin Regional Council he took some 81% of the votes, she writes, adding that he managed to isolate the pro-Sa’ar voices who saw him as the best hope for the right.
- Haaretz’s lead editorial urges the left, meanwhile, to unite as the best way to make sure that Netanyahu does not succeed: “The danger is clear and present. If either Labor or Meretz (in its present wrapping as the Democratic Union) do not make it into the next Knesset, the right will enjoy a crushing victory, with Netanyahu forming a coalition that will grant him immunity from facing trial while destroying the judicial system and annexing the West Bank,” the paper warns