3 Likud lawmakers said to slam Netanyahu, arguing he’s losing hold over party

Ex-ministers reportedly say opposition leader has failed to create genuine relationships with party MKs, basing them only on ‘give and take,’ which doesn’t work now he’s not PM

Opposition leader and Likud party chief MK Benjamin Netanyahu leads a meeting at the Knesset on June 28, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Opposition leader and Likud party chief MK Benjamin Netanyahu leads a meeting at the Knesset on June 28, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Three former Likud ministers are reportedly saying party leader and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is distanced from his party lawmakers and untrusted by them, the result of years of alleged neglect in maintaining personal relationships.

Now the leader of the opposition, Netanyahu is trying to bolster his position at the head of the party with a charm offensive after years of give-and-take relationships with lawmakers, the three Likud MKs told the Israel Hayom newspaper in a report published Thursday.

The report was unusual for Israel Hayom, which has long been extremely supportive of Netanyahu.

“Netanyahu’s problem is that he is not trusted,” said the one of the former ministers, all of whom are currently serving Likud MKs. None were identified in the report, which was a preview for a full story to be published on Friday.

Due to a lack of trust, Netanyahu will “need to work very hard” to rebuild his connections, the lawmaker said. “It is not clear whether he still remembers how to do that, and so in my estimation, it is doomed to fail.”

Another of the former ministers accused Netanyahu of having a “give and take” relationship with those around him for years, paying them attention only when it suited his purposes rather than out of any genuine interest.

“He did not cultivate relationships, was not interested in personal lives, and on the contrary, he always acted with suspicion and a watchful eye on the actions and statements of his senior officials,” the source said.

But now, as head of the opposition, Netanyahu is trying to lead an ultra-coordinated struggle against the new government while lacking the power to hand his loyalists benefits, the Likud members said.

“There is no one in the Likud who doesn’t feel that Netanyahu didn’t pay him any attention” and as a result “feels frustrated by it,” another of the former ministers said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses his supporters on election night, at the Likud party election headquarters in Jerusalem, March 24, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“All of a sudden, he is trying to be nice. Suddenly he is asking to see party members,” the source said. But now, “in contrast to the past, Netanyahu has nothing to give. There is nothing in the opposition.”

“Now he is suddenly trying to get back to the basic human relationships, whose absence has brought him to the troubles he has today,” the lawmaker said, referring to the desertion of some Likud lawmakers and divisions with other right-wing parties in the Knesset that eventually prevented Netanyahu from building a majority coalition after the March elections.

With the installation of a new government last month, which ended more than 12 consecutive years of Netanyahu’s rule, the Likud chief was forced to lead his party into the opposition, where there is a danger of lawmakers splitting from the party to join the government, said Israel Hayom.

A proposed law change that would enable as few as four MKs from a party to leave and form a new faction — rather than the current one-third of party lawmakers — has added to the threat.

However, the Likud lawmakers were less worried about any breakaways, with one telling the newspaper that anyone who wanted to leave would already have done so. Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin both left Likud ahead of the last election and are now in the New Hope party founded by Sa’ar.

Netanyahu’s continued leadership of Likud is also facing open challenges from party members.

Former health minister Yuli Edelstein has already reportedly been attacking Netanyahu in private conversations, with associates accusing him of making “all possible mistakes” that cost Likud the government. Edelstein is also said to have declared he will run in primaries to become party leader.

Edelstein is not the only one eyeing Netanyahu’s throne or who has criticized Netanyahu’s handling of the post-election political situation. Former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, who has said he intends to run for Likud leader should Netanyahu eventually step down, last month said that Netanyahu got his “considerations” wrong and should have stepped aside to prevent a change in government.

In May, former finance minister Israel Katz said that he had suggested that Netanyahu temporarily step aside to enable the formation of a right-wing government, since Sa’ar’s New Hope had said it would join forces with Likud if it wasn’t led by Netanyahu.

Katz said he had proposed to Netanyahu that he hold fresh primaries for the party leadership, with the winner replacing the incumbent as prime minister for a single year, after which Netanyahu would presumably return. Katz said he believed he would win the primaries and temporarily become prime minister. Netanyahu rejected the idea.

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