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‘He cares about himself, not Likud’: Netanyahu attacked by senior party members

Ex-ministers and MKs slam former PM for not relinquishing leadership, dooming them to opposition; Miri Regev says time for party to move away from Ashkenazi men as leaders

Shalom Yerushalmi is the political analyst for Zman Israel, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew current affairs website

Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to right-wing opposition party members a day after a new government was sworn in, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to right-wing opposition party members a day after a new government was sworn in, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

A number of senior members of the Likud party, among them former ministers, have expressed anger at former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for leading them into the opposition, with increasing talk of an uprising against him.

Likud lawmaker and former minister Israel Katz publicly attacked both Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz this week, blaming them for the failure of their short-lived power-sharing government to pass a budget.

“Israel Katz is frustrated,” Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman said this week. “One day he rags on me, another day on his party chairman [Netanyahu], another day on Benny Gantz.”

Liberman made the comments after Katz’s latest attack on the Finance Ministry, once under Katz’s leadership, claiming that Liberman was using plans he had drawn up and was now seeking credit for them.

But Katz is not the only senior Likud member who is frustrated. Several others are also trying to break through the background noise but don’t know how to do so — politicians who have been waiting for decades to assume the Likud party leadership, but don’t see that happening any time soon.

They see the idea of their party being in the government rather than the opposition moving further and further away, and the struggles against the coalition, with long hours of overnight filibusters, are not changing anything.

Likud MK Israel Katz speaks during a Conference of Heads of Local Authorities, in Ramat Negev, southern Israel, July 22, 2021. (Flash90)

They almost unanimously admit that the budget will pass by the November 4 deadline, meaning the current coalition will survive and they are doomed to a long period, perhaps even years, in opposition.

On Tuesday, some of them were heard for the first time alleging that Netanyahu was the man who led them into this situation, and that therefore he is the one who should pay the price.

The conversation took place at the bat mitzvah of the daughter of key Likud activist Rami Taib, who has been indicted for his alleged role in Case 3000, the submarine affair, which revolves around allegations of a massive bribery scheme in Israel’s multi-billion-shekel purchase of naval vessels from a German shipbuilder.

Taib is a former political adviser to then-energy minister Yuval Steinitz, as well as to former coalition leaders David Amsalem and David Bitan.

The bat mitzvah was attended by almost all Likud lawmakers and former ministers, including Katz, Miri Regev, Steinitz, Yuli Edelstein, Amsalem and Yariv Levin, all sitting at the main table.

Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Yuli Edelstein and Yariv Levin at the Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset on April 30, 2019 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Although Netanyahu himself was not there, he was a main topic of conversation, and without bodyguards, aides or drivers listening in, the senior members of the party felt they were able to speak freely, Zman Yisrael, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew sister site, has learned.

One former senior minister said that “instead of sitting in government we are sitting at weddings.”

The former minister’s argument revolved around Netanyahu’s failure to pass a budget so as to prevent Gantz from becoming prime minister as required in their coalition deal, as this was the sole scenario under which Netanyahu would not have to step aside as premier if new elections were called. The coalition agreement stated that if a two-year 2020-21 budget failed to pass, elections would automatically take place.

“We all should be ministers today, with only Netanyahu having to move,” said another former minister. “What a terrible mistake. We are suckers. I don’t know why we agreed to help bring about this [situation].”

One minister attacked Netanyahu’s refusal to hand over the reins of the party leadership to Katz, who wanted to form a government and keep the party in government. Katz said last month that he would have had no problem putting together a right-wing coalition following the last elections, had Netanyahu relinquished the party leadership instead of dooming the faction to the opposition.

“Netanyahu was willing to give the job to [Prime Minister] Naftali Bennett, to Gideon Sa’ar, to anyone else,” said one former minister. “Just not to any of us. He could not see any of us moving up through the Likud ranks alongside him to a more senior position. He was afraid he would be threatened.

“This is not a leader who cares about Likud; he is a leader who cares about himself,” the minister charged.

Those sitting at the table also talked about what one lawmaker termed “Netanyahu’s greediness,” in the context of a report that the opposition leader and his wife recently stayed in the presidential suite of a Haifa hotel for a fraction of the listed price. Netanyahu denied he knew he had received the discount and had since paid the difference.

A senior Likud MK concluded that the tables would eventually be turned on Netanyahu because “the budget is like a hammer blow and is also a watershed for Likud.”

“If Netanyahu stays, I think there will be a general uprising and we will know where it began. This is the current atmosphere and we saw it in the vote against Keren Barak, who could have won and been our representative on the Judicial Appointments Committee,” the lawmaker said.

Barak, who was backed by Netanyahu, was defeated by MK Orly Levy-Abekasis in a secret ballot to be the party’s nominee for the Judicial Appointments Committee, in a move widely seen as a blow to the opposition leader. Levy-Abekasis then lost the vote to serve as the legislative representative of the opposition on the panel.

Bitan said Wednesday that the party “is in the opposition and former ministers don’t know where they stand.” Despite his support for Netanyahu, Bitan led the vote against Barak and when he was summoned by the opposition leader for a reprimand, Bitan told Netanyahu that “I will continue to criticize you.”

Regev, meanwhile, in an interview set to be published in full on Friday, told the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper that it was time for a change in the Likud party’s leadership, which should move away from Ashkenazi men.

Miri Regev in Jerusalem, on April 12, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Regev noted that in the 73 years of the country’s existence, most senior roles in Israel have yet to be held by a Mizrahi (or “Eastern”) Jew, despite the fact that the majority of Likud party members belong to the long-marginalized community.

“Something is wrong here, and Likud must be changed to change it. Only Likud,” Regev said. “There has been no Mizrahi prime minister, this is true. But also look at the senior members of Likud — all of them are Ashkenazi men: Bibi [Netanyahu], [Nir] Barkat, [Yoav] Gallant, Katz.”

Barkat and Katz, along with Edelstein, have shown an interest in taking over the leadership of the party in the future.

However, at the bat mitzvah, some Likud members poured cold water on the talk of an uprising against Netanyahu,

“Where were these heroes after Netanyahu failed to form a government?” one said. “Why then did they not stand up to oust him? Did Netanyahu wait for Ariel Sharon to vacate the post, or did he stand up to throw him out [in 2005]?”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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