Likud denies Sa’ar allies’ claim membership rolls purged before leadership vote

Party says there’s no wrongdoing, majority of missing members didn’t pay dues so can’t vote on leader next week; many of those removed are affiliated with New Likudniks

Likud party member Gideon Sa'ar launches his campaign for the upcoming primaries for the Likud chairman, ahead of the Knesset elections, in Or Yehuda, on December 16, 2019. (Courtesy)
Likud party member Gideon Sa'ar launches his campaign for the upcoming primaries for the Likud chairman, ahead of the Knesset elections, in Or Yehuda, on December 16, 2019. (Courtesy)

The Likud party on Tuesday denied that thousands of voters had been purged from the party’s rolls ahead of the primary next week after supporters of MK Gideon Sa’ar, who is challenging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for leadership of the party, said members were being prevented from casting ballots.

MK Yoav Kisch, who is running Sa’ar’s campaign, told Radio 103FM that 5,444 Likud members were missing from the party’s membership list, and would thus be prevented from voting in the December 26 face-off between Netanyahu and Sa’ar.

He said they included fellow Likud MK Sharren Haskel, who is also backing Sa’ar’s leadership bid. In a since deleted tweet, Kisch said “it seems Metzudat Zeev [Likud HQ] decided there are no rules, everything is allowed and there is no democracy. They decided who can vote.” He later said he deleted the post because “maybe the issue happened by mistake and will be fixed” and that it would be examined by Likud’s internal court.

According to a statement from the Likud HQ, the reports were “inaccurate and false” and of the 5,400 people missing from the list, 3,071 people did not pay dues, 1,440 asked to cancel their membership, 63 died, 26 people moved to the Jewish Home party and five moved to Labor.

Likud MK Yoav Kisch speaks at Gideon Sa’ar’s campaign launch for party leader lin Or Yehuda, December 16, 2019. (Gili Yaariq/Flash90)

In addition, 438 people were removed from the party in line with a decision by the Likud party’s internal court, probably due to an affiliation with the New Likudniks, an intraparty organization, the Walla news site reported.

The New Likudniks, founded in 2011 after mass protests over the cost of living, says it is seeking to push “the economic interests of the middle class” and “preservation of liberal democracy” from within the party. It does not take a position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The New Likudniks have been accused by allies of Netanyahu of seeking to move the party leftwards and push out the prime minister as its leader.

“This behavior by Likud management is corrupt. If this is true and they are purging the rolls of many members, this is an attempt to steal the primaries,” Nir Hirshman, a New Likudnik organizer, told Army Radio.

Screen capture from video of New Likud members Nir Hirshman, left, and Hadar Weisman. (Channel 12)

Members of Sa’ar’s campaign team said some people had been removed from the  list for merely giving a “like” on Facebook to a post by New Likudnik leaders, Channel 12 reported.

“The claims are inflated, baseless and exaggerated,” a party spokesperson told the network. “Every proceeding concerning Likud members is done transparently, according to the law and with the supervision of the authorized bodies.”

The complaints over the removal of Likud members from the party’s rolls came a day after Sa’ar kicked off his campaign for the upcoming primary, saying Netanyahu had “no chance” of winning the next elections.

Though considered a long-shot to win the leadership race, Sa’ar is the first serious challenger in Likud to emerge in years against Netanyahu, who has failed in consecutive attempts to form a government and faces corruption charges in three criminal cases.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then education minister Gideon Sa’ar (L) attend an award ceremony hosted by the Trump Foundation, at Netanyahu’s office in Jerusalem, on December 25, 2012. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The charges against Netanyahu, who denies wrongdoing, were a major bone of contention in unity talks between Likud and the rival Blue and White party following elections in September, which left both of the parties short of a majority together with their respective allies.

Many Likud members have criticized Sa’ar over his public challenge of Netanyahu’s leadership, with some even accusing him of “betrayal.”

Recent television polls have suggested though Likud itself would do worse in the next elections with Sa’ar at the helm instead of Netanyahu, the right-wing bloc the party heads would fare better overall.

The Knesset dissolved itself last Wednesday night, triggering national elections for the third time in under a year. The Knesset set the date of the elections for March 2.

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