Moshe Feiglin leads hardliners’ rise on Likud’s Knesset slate, at expense of moderates

‘This is just the beginning,’ says Feiglin. ‘Eventually, we will build the temple and fulfill our purpose in this land’; veteran Begin could lose his seat, Meridor almost certainly will

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Moshe Feiglin documents his experience of the Likud Primaries in Tel Aviv, November 26, 2012. (photo credit: Flash90)
Moshe Feiglin documents his experience of the Likud Primaries in Tel Aviv, November 26, 2012. (photo credit: Flash90)

Members of the governing Likud party on Monday selected a strongly right-wing slate of candidates for the January 22 Knesset elections, elevating hardliners and relegating moderates.

The figurehead of the party’s far-right stream, Moshe Feiglin, won 15th slot, and thus is all-but guaranteed a Knesset seat after years of failure. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have various procedural and legal means to tinker with the final arrangement of the Knesset slate, but Feiglin’s high placement means it may not be possible for Netanyahu to sideline the hardliner as he has done in the past.

“If someone wanted to create the most right-wing Likud list possible, this would be it,” commented Channel 2 political analyst Rina Matsliah, when the results were announced late on Monday. “This looks like a list for the [far-right] National Union,” another commentator agreed.

“This is just the beginning,” Feiglin said. Eventually, Channel 10 quoted him as saying, “we will build the temple on the Temple Mount and fulfill our purpose in this land.”

MK Zahava Gal-On, the head of the leftist Meretz party, declared that the liberal Likud party of yore “has breathed its last… It’s scary to think what is going to happen here if the Likud stays in power.”

While Feiglin, head of the Likud’s “Jewish leadership” faction, fared well in the party primaries, moderate Likud veterans such as Ministers Dan Meridor and Michael Eitan found themselves in unrealistic spots.

Minister without Portfolio Benny Begin, son of the late Likud prime minister Menachem Begin, and ex-Kadima MK and Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter, the outgoing home front defense minister, were also placed in low slots.

Netanyahu could make adjustments that might save Begin’s seat, but Meridor may have placed too low for even that possibility.

As party chairman, Netanyahu is the automatic first place on the Likud’s list for the 19th Knesset. In Monday’s primaries, he was followed by Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom and Transportation and National Infrastructure Minister Yisrael Katz. Deputy Knesset Speaker Danny Danon, a hardliner and relentless critic of US President Barack Obama’s positions on Israel who is concluding his first term in parliament, took sixth spot, followed by Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin.

However, the Likud will be running on a joint list with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman — who will be in No. 2 spot on the merged list — and his Yisrael Beytenu party. After Netanyahu and Liberman, every two Likud candidates will be followed by a Yisrael Beytenu candidate. This, and other potential adjustments by Netanyahu, could yet somewhat alter the final roster. Furthermore, the Likud slate has preferred slots for women candidates, and district candidates, which will mean additional adjustments.

The top woman in the Likud primaries was Tzipi Hotovely, and the next woman was Miri Regev. Both are known for their far-right and nationalist positions; Regev notoriously described illegal Sudanese migrants to Israel as a cancer during protests earlier this year. Former Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, who returned to the Likud after two terms as Kadima MK and a corruption conviction, snagged the 17th slot.

MK Carmel Shama Hacohen, in a poor 21st place, said he was uncomfortable with the results, pointing particularly to the fact that Begin and Meridor were placed outside the top 35.

All parties vying for Knesset seats must present their final lists of candidates by December 6.

Nearly 100 people competed in the Likud primaries, but only the 25 or so best-placed candidates have a realistic chance to be elected.

Recent polls predict between 35 and 40 seats for Likud Beytenu, the joint list of Likud and Yisrael Beytenu. Spots on the list will be allocated based on the two parties’ strength in the outgoing Knesset (where Likud had 27 and Yisrael Beytenu 15 seats). After the two party chairmen — Netanyahu and Liberman — in the two top slots, the sequences of two spots for a Likud candidate followed by one for a Yisrael Beytenu candidate do allow the prime minister some room for maneuver.

He could, for example, strike a deal with Liberman to have some of his favorite candidates who placed low in the primaries run on spots reserved for Yisrael Beytenu candidates. This could be an option, for example, for former Israeli ambassador to the US and ex-MK Zalman Shoval, a Netanyahu favorite. It is hard to see how a move like this could harm Feiglin’s elevated position, however.

Some 60 percent of the Likud’s 123,351 registered members cast their votes over two days. Due to computer glitches the vote, which started on Sunday morning and was initially scheduled to close that day at 10 p.m., was extended until Monday night.

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