2 Likud lawmakers appeal to internal court against merger with Kulanu

MKs whose seats may now be in danger claim agreement that reserved 4 spots on slate for Kulanu MKs was approved without due process; float compromise arrangement

Likud MK Michal Shir at an orientation day at the Knesset, April 29, 2019. (Noam Moscowitz/Knesset)
Likud MK Michal Shir at an orientation day at the Knesset, April 29, 2019. (Noam Moscowitz/Knesset)

Two backbench lawmakers in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party on Tuesday filed an official appeal to the ruling party’s internal court against the decision to reserve four spots on the slate for the upcoming elections for members of the Kulanu party.

The Likud secretariat last week approved a merger deal between the party and Moshe Kahlon’s center-right Kulanu, with four slots on the Likud slate reserved for Kulanu members: numbers 5, 15, 29, 35, with Kahlon placed fifth.

The party also authorized Netanyahu to remain at the helm of the party and said the Likud slate — apart from adjustments due to the Kulanu additions — would remain unchanged, waiving a requirement to hold party primaries before each general election.

MKs Michal Shir and Ariel Kallner had fiercely opposed the decision and appealed to the Likud secretariat against it. Shir, currently No. 29 on the Likud slate, and Kallner, No. 34, will both be pushed back three spots according to the agreement. The party currently has 35 Knesset seats.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, in Jerusalem, on March 11, 2019. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)

Now, the two freshman lawmakers are taking the matter to the Likud court, claiming the move was approved without due process and against the party’s internal rules.

Shir and Kallner proposed a compromise according to which Kahlon and Kulanu No. 2 Eli Cohen would keep their reserved spots, but No. 3 Yifat Shasha-Biton and No. 4 Roy Folkman would not. The latter two “have repeatedly made statements against the Likud movement and have expressed a worldview that is different from the vision and goals of Likud,” they said.

They also pointed out the fact that Folkman was the only Knesset member to walk out and not participate in last week’s crucial vote on whether to dissolve the parliament and call new elections.

Kulanu MK Roy Folkman speaks at a cultural event in the central city of Kfar Saba on February 2, 2019. (Flash90)

Shir and Kallner argued that Folkman’s support for that bill was mandatory according to the Likud-Kulanu merger deal, and that he had thus violated it.

“With Kahlon, we will receive 40 seats,” declared Netanyahu last week in announcing the merger. In the April 9 election, the Likud party won 35 seats and Kulanu won four, down from the 10 it clinched in the 2015 election.

Should he form the next coalition, the agreement is also expected to ease Netanyahu’s planned efforts to advance an immunity law and bill limiting the Supreme Court to shield himself from prosecution, which Kahlon had in the past opposed but whose Kulanu colleagues in recent days walked back their opposition.

MK Yifat Shasha-Biton leads a children’s rights committee meeting at the Knesset, January 10, 2017 (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Though the secretariat vote was passed by a wide margin, Shir and Kallner weren’t the only Likud members who were not pleased by Kahlon’s homecoming. Haim Katz and Gideon Sa’ar were among those who boycotted the vote, the Walla news site reported.

In an apparent effort to appease the backbench lawmakers, who will likely lose their position due to the alliance, the Likud motion also pledged to expand the so-called Norwegian Law, which allows ministers to resign as Knesset members and vacate their seats for the next candidates on the party list. Likud said it would amend the law — which is currently limited to one resignation per party — to four.

Kulanu was formed by Kahlon ahead of the 2015 elections and championed socially friendly economic policies, particularly for young families.

Marissa Newman and AFP contributed to this report.

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