Defying Netanyahu loyalists, Likud minister encourages rebel party faction

‘Nobody can stop you,’ Tzachi Hanegbi tells New Likudniks, promising to block attempts to deny them votes in primaries

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

MK Tzachi Hanegbi during a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on March 15, 2016 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Tzachi Hanegbi during a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on March 15, 2016 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A group called the New Likudniks, accused by close associates of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of trying to take over the right-wing Likud Party from within, notched up a success on Monday when a top party minister told its members, “nobody can stop you.”

Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi told a New Likudnik gathering in Tel Aviv, “This is how revolutions start. It starts with young people who are driven solely by energy, motivation and a willingness to give.”

Hanegbi, a Likud minister considered close to Netanyahu, said he was pleased to see “another ideological group” in the party, in addition to a group advocating for Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a Likud Party rally in Tel Aviv, August 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty, File)

The Likud forms the biggest party in the governing coalition, ruling with various right-wing and religious parties. The insurgent group is seen as a bid to oust Netanyahu, who has served consecutively as prime minister for over 7 years.

Members of the group deny any intention of mounting a coup, saying their aim is to return the party — which has moved further to the right under Netanyahu — to return to its moderate nationalist but liberal roots.

New Likudnik head Lior Meiri said 13,100 people have signed up for the Likud Party via the group.

Coalition head David Bitan has been trying to block New Likudniks from voting in Likud Party primaries.

Likud MK David Bitan attends a protest in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu near the weekly demonstration by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s home in Petah Tikva on August 5, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Earlier this year, Bitan, a fierce Netanyahu loyalist, said of the group: “A person who doesn’t believe in the values of the Likud and comes in purely so he can blow it up and change it in a way that will harm it, is criminal in every way.”

He added, “We have the right to defend ourselves against hostile control.”

Hanegbi decried such efforts at Monday’s gathering,

“There are forces which find it hard to understand how commendable what you’re doing is,” he told the crowd, charging that “efforts to prevent people from being counted are illegal.”

He said he would be alert to ensure that nobody was denied the right to vote.

Likud lawmakers Sharren Haskel and Yehuda Glick also attended the event.

The New Likudniks was founded in 2011 by leaders of the social justice protests, which that summer saw hundreds of thousands of Israelis take to the streets to demand government action on behalf of the middle class. The group’s stated agenda is to push what it says are middle-class interests from within Likud. It takes no view on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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