Ex-president’s brother and former PM’s son vying for same spot on Likud slate

Race heats up between Lior Katsav and Gilad Sharon, both boosted — and hindered — by association with a high-profile relative; UN envoy Danon says he’ll stay in his current role

Gilad Sharon (L), son of former prime minister Ariel Sharon, and Lior Katsav, brother of former president Moshe Katsav. (Anna Kaplan/Flash90; Flash90)
Gilad Sharon (L), son of former prime minister Ariel Sharon, and Lior Katsav, brother of former president Moshe Katsav. (Anna Kaplan/Flash90; Flash90)

As the April Knesset elections loom, so does the primary that will determine the ruling Likud party’s slate for the next parliament.

On Sunday, former Likud MK and current UN ambassador Danny Danon announced that he was remaining in his current position, contradicting earlier reports that he would run for a spot in the next Knesset.

“I intend to continue advancing Israel’s position at the UN, and therefore I will not participate in these upcoming Knesset elections,” he said in a statement. “The role of Israel’s ambassador to the UN is one of great responsibility, and I will continue to strengthen Israel’s standing during this trying time.”

Meanwhile in the February 5 primaries, no race is arguably more intriguing than the one for the spot reserved for a candidate from the southern Negev region, in which the son of former prime minister Ariel Sharon is running against the brother of disgraced ex-president Moshe Katsav.

In this photo from June 13, 2018, Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon speaks to the General Assembly before a vote to condemn Israeli actions in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, at UN headquarters in New York. (Don Emmert/AFP)

Gilad Sharon, 52, currently runs his family’s sheep and cow farm in Havat Shikmim, near the city of Sderot. He has never been a politician, although he famously supported his father’s contentious 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip, in which all settlements in the coastal enclave were evacuated.

Gilad Sharon also railed at the time against the current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, calling him a “traitor” for opposing his father’s plan. This week, however, he told Hadashot TV that Netanyahu is the best candidate to lead Israel.

He also called his late father’s defection from Likud, to form the since-defunct centrist Kadima party, “a mistake.”

US President George W. Bush listening to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, left, speaking at a joint news conference following their talks about the Middle East peace process at Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, April 11, 2005. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP Images/JTA)

Sharon is running against Lior Katsav, 49, a lawyer who was elected in 1998 as mayor of the city of Kiryat Malachi, making him the youngest mayor in the country.

Katsav had a key role in the legal defense team of his older brother, who was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison in 2010 for a series of rape and sexual harassment offenses.

But he has now said his brother’s actions shouldn’t affect the voters’ decision since it is he, Lior Katsav, who is up for election. He already ran unsuccessfully several times for a Likud seat, losing in 2008 to none other than Omri Sharon, Gilad’s brother.

Former president Moshe Katsav, left, serving a seven-year sentence for rape, seen with his wife, Gila, leaving Ma’asiyahu Prison for a furlough over the Jewish holiday of Passover, April 3, 2015. (Flash90)

Both Gilad Sharon and Lior Katsav have faced accusations of wrongdoing themselves. Katsav was accused of sexual harassment in 2007, but the case was closed when complaints were deemed unfounded.

Gilad Sharon was involved in the so-called Greek island corruption case, in which businessman David Appel was suspected of paying him a very high salary as a form of bribery intended for his father. That case, too, was eventually closed.

There are more candidates for the Negev region spot, but the attention will naturally focus on this pair, both of whom are building on — but also trying to break free from — the association with a former leader remembered by every single Likud member, and not necessarily for positive reasons.

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