Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party has reportedly experienced internal turmoil in recent days, following a push by a freshman MK to cancel the party membership of veteran ex-lawmakers who have in recent years criticized the direction the right-wing party has been taking.
During the election campaigns in April and September, several prominent former Likud ministers and lawmakers have said they won’t vote for the party they had represented in the Knesset for decades, with some accusing the party of becoming a “cult of personality” for Netanyahu and slamming its increasingly divisive rhetoric.
On Friday, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported that Likud MK Shlomo Karai, a 37-year-old who was first elected to the parliament earlier this year, was pushing an initiative to expel party veterans Benny Begin, Dan Meridor, Michael Eitan and Dan Tichon — all former senior ministers and lawmakers for the party — and had filed an official request to do so.
In May, Meridor and Begin — son of Likud’s founder and first leader, Menachem Begin — criticized the direction in which Netanyahu has been taking the party. Meridor warned of a Netanyahu “dictatorship,” underlining efforts by the prime minister to shield himself from prosecution in three graft cases, while Begin called the premier’s push for immunity “a clear act of corruption.”
Tichon and Eitan announced days before the September 17 election that they could not vote for the right-wing party they represented in the past.
“After checking the matter, I was surprised to discover that former Likud elected officials who have vehemently attacked the Likud electoral slate and representatives in the last election have not ceased to be party members,” Karai wrote in his letter. “Furthermore, due to their past positions they are members of the Likud Central Committee for the rest of their lives.”
The Likud Central Committee is a powerful body that elects the party’s leader and list of candidates.
“In light of their severe remarks against the Likud slate, and their declaration that they wouldn’t be voting for the party in the last election, they should be immediately expelled from the party,” he added. “If they remain members it spits in the faces of the party members and Central Committee members who work day and night for the benefit of the movement and the country.”
Begin, Meridor and Eitan have not publicly commented on the matter. Tichon has said: “All the people mentioned were among the founders of Likud. Beyond that I have nothing to say.”
On Sunday, the newspaper said the idea was much-discussed over the weekend on Likud’s internal social media platforms, with many activists agreeing with Karai but others criticizing the initiative and even contacting key Likud officials asking that it not be implemented.
Likud MK Ofir Katz was said to have written a letter to party officials saying, “Likud is and will always be a democratic movement, whose strength is in its tolerance and openness to a variety of worldviews, and in the fact that it has always represented a wide array of opinions and populations.
“The people mentioned in the report are an inseparable part of Likud’s foundation, definitely Benny Begin, the son of the movement’s founder and first leader, Menachem Begin, who was a remarkable leader whose immense contribution to the country and the party cannot be denied. The Begin family will forever be a part of Likud and that should be preserved.”
Another Likud MK, Miki Zohar, has similarly emphasized the party’s tolerance of dissenting opinions by its members, saying that while the ex-lawmakers had “lost their way,” he was in favor of them “remaining members of Likud and respecting the majority’s stance.”
Labor MK Itzik Shmuli assailed the ruling party over the attempt, saying in a statement: “An MK who hasn’t even served for a year is already demanding the expulsion of his movement’s founders. Such embarrassment. They didn’t come out against Likud’s values but against what you have become — from a statesmanlike and liberal movement to a cult of personality that promotes corruption and nationalism and is pushing the country to an abyss.”
Karai responded to his critics within Likud, saying: “It is simply masochism. They continue to assail us and we are ingratiating. Do they have immunity because of their past status within the movement? The answer is no. The wrong should be righted.”