Likud MK Amir Ohana on Saturday denied a report from The Times of Israel’s sister site Zman Yisrael that he had lost support from party leader Benjamin Netanyahu.
“I didn’t ask anyone to stand by my side, I’m a big boy,” Ohana told Channel 12 news, after Netanyahu reportedly sat silently while Ohana was harshly criticized by another MK during a heated party meeting on Monday.
“My relationship with Netanyahu was and remains excellent,” he added.
After entering the Knesset in 2015, Ohana quickly became one of then-prime minister Netanyahu’s most loyal backers. He passionately defended the party leader against the various corruption allegations against him and was rewarded with a series of senior ministerial posts, despite his relatively low ranking on the Likud list.
But according to Zman Yisrael’s Thursday report, Ohana’s time in Netanyahu’s inner circle appears to be drawing to a close. During Monday’s meeting, MK David Bitan tore into fellow faction members for failing to show up for key Knesset votes.
When Ohana requested permission to speak, Bitan cut him off and castigated the former minister for being among those who have been missing from the plenum recently, including on a vote on a coalition proposal to expand access to medical marijuana — that the opposition tried to shoot down and lost.
“Who are you anyway?” Zman Yisrael quoted Bitan as having shouted at Ohana. “Who are you to decide anything here? You ran after Netanyahu and he gave you [some senior] positions, so now you [think you get to] decide things here? For a few extra votes in the [Likud] primaries, you chose not to show up for a vote?”
Ohana reportedly sat speechless in shock and looked over at Netanyahu, apparently hoping that the party leader would back him up. But the opposition chairman remained silent, according to the report. It said Netanyahu is livid with Ohana over his failure to denounce MK Yuli Edelstein when the latter announced earlier this month that he would challenge Netanyahu for the Likud leadership.
“I will support [Netanyahu] if primaries are indeed held, as I believe MK Edelstein wants, because I think he is the most suitable for the party leader,” Ohana told Channel 12 on Saturday.
In the past, Ohana had bitterly censured those in the party who sought to challenge Netanyahu. But he was silent following Edelstein’s announcement, with only backbencher MK Shlomo Karhi speaking out against Edelstein, a former health minister and Knesset speaker.
Netanyahu associates took note of Ohana’s silence and responded by sending a number of messages in Likud WhatsApp groups highlighting the former minister’s “failures,” in addition to claiming that he is seeking to join forces with Edelstein and Nir Barkat — another Likud MK seen as a possible party leader and Netanyahu challenger.
The attacks on Ohana climaxed at the Monday Likud faction meeting, where such an intense assault by Bitan would not have taken place without a nod from Netanyahu, Zman Yisrael reported.
“I will not give up until you are sanctioned,” Bitan shouted at Ohana. Those looking at Netanyahu saw him hold back a smile, Zman reported.
According to Channel 12, however, the reason behind Netanyahu’s purported decision to turn on Ohana had less to do with his failure to condemn Edelstein and more to do with an internal poll among Likud supporters indicating that the former public security minister is actually gaining in popularity.
The poll asked respondents to rank MKs other than Netanyahu for Likud’s next Knesset list. At the top was former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, who Netanyahu has indicated he views as a potential heir. In second place was Ohana, followed by MKs David Amsalem, Yariv Levin and Galit Distel Atbaryan.
“I’m not sorry over the poll results,” Ohana told Channel 12, while denying reports that he had commissioned it. According to the network, nobody has taken public responsibility for the internal poll, or it leaking to the media.