A Likud comptroller disqualified Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from running for the party’s leadership primary next week, in a move that could imperil the prime minister’s chances of competing for another term. However, the party’s Election Committee chairman said the comptroller had no authority to take the step.
Comptroller Shai Galili cited Netanyahu’s alleged misuse of party funds and other property to advance his candidacy in disqualifying him from the primary.
Netanyahu’s attorney, however, insisted that Galili had overstepped his authority in disqualifying Netanyahu, likely setting up a legal battle that could delay primaries.
Other Likud sources also downplayed the significance of Galili’s move.
“The decision by political operator Galili is absurd, based on outside considerations and lacks all validity,” Netanyahu’s primary campaign said in a statement.
In a letter to Netanyahu’s attorney, Galili detailed Netanyahu’s use of Likud headquarters to promote his campaign for the party leadership. He added that Netanyahu had also posted a speech of his on the Likud website, which runs against party bylaws.
“I am aware of the fact that this is the disqualification of a sitting prime minister and that this disqualification could cause political and monetary damage to the party,” Galili wrote.
“However, I cannot weigh these considerations among other deliberations in the balance since they are considered extraneous considerations.”
Menachem Ne’eman, the chairman of the Likud Election Committee, said the comptroller did not have the authority to make his decision and accused Galili of causing immense damage to the party.
“When we stand ahead of internal primaries, in which we have already invested a fortune, and as we rigorously campaign against the other parties, the mere consideration of disqualifying Netanyahu causes untold harm,” Ne’eman wrote in a statement.
“Such a decision on disqualification is completely contrary to the will of all eligible voters — both those who are preparing to vote for Netanyahu and those who are preparing to vote for Danny Danon.”
Ne’eman concluded that he believed the comptroller could not enforce an exclusion of the prime minister from the primary ballot. “I do not think this decision is valid because it was given without any authority,” Ne’eman wrote.
Netanyahu is set to compete against Danny Danon for the party’s leadership on December 31.
Galili argued that the Political Party Law explicitly permitted him to disqualify Netanyahu, Haaretz reported.
“If the body authorized by the party — or in the absence of such a body, the audit institution — has concluded that a candidate did not follow a directive in this section, it is entitled to, among other things, disqualify the candidacy, and if he or she was elected to head the party, [the body] may cancel the elections,” Galili quoted from subsection 28 of the Political Party Law.
On Friday, the Likud’s comptroller summoned Netanyahu to a hearing on suspicion that the prime minister used party funds for the benefit of political conventions to promote his candidacy in the Likud, according to Haaretz. Netanyahu, the comptroller alleged, had two weeks ago illegally convened several political activists and urged them to support him in the race for the party’s leadership. A speech given by the prime minister at the event was later uploaded to the party website.
The Likud’s internal primaries were moved from January 6 to December 31 after a proposal to this effect by Netanyahu was approved by a majority of the party’s Central Committee.
Netanyahu’s motion to move up the primaries was ostensibly intended to clear the way for the chosen Likud head to begin preparations for the March 17 elections as soon as possible, but was seen by many as an attempt to thwart a rumored leadership bid by popular former minister Gideon Sa’ar.
Sa’ar later announced that he would not run for the party leadership.
MK Danon, the Likud Central Committee chairman, remains the sole rival in the leadership race to Netanyahu, after MK Moshe Feiglin announced last Thursday morning that he would back out of a bid to head the party.
Adiv Sterman, Haviv Rettig-Gur and Joshua Davidovich contributed to this report.