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'Lust for a position that he will never reach'

Likud MKs pan ‘subversive’ Edelstein for challenging Netanyahu as party leader

Lawmakers say challenger has ‘no chance’ of unseating long-time chief, criticize his timing in announcing intention as opposition battles government over budget

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Then-health minister Yuli Edelstein seen during a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on April 20, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Then-health minister Yuli Edelstein seen during a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on April 20, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Likud lawmakers responded with derision to party No. 2 Yuli Edelstein’s announcement Monday evening that he intends to challenge veteran leader Benjamin Netanyahu for the party leadership.

Lawmakers accused Edelstein of subversion and dismissed his campaign as having “zero chance of success.”

Edelstein announced his intentions in an interview with Channel 12, in which he attacked Netanyahu for failing to form a government despite Likud faring well in four rounds of elections, and said the only way for the party to pull itself out of the opposition was to replace its leader through primary elections.

Likud MK Eli Cohen told Channel 12 on Tuesday that Edelstein’s timing was bad, coming as the opposition tries to bring down the government by preventing the Knesset from passing a national budget.

“Edelstein chose a problematic and wrong moment,” he said. “We are in a battle over the budget and are looking at ways to replace the government.”

Though Edelstein is a “suitable candidate,” there is strong, widespread support for Netanyahu, Cohen said.

MK Eli Cohen at the Economy Ministry in Jerusalem on May 18 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Whether primaries are held in three months or in three years, Netanyahu will win,” he said. “In my opinion, anyone who competes against Netanyahu doesn’t stand a chance.”

More criticism came from MK Miri Regev, a longtime ally of Netanyahu, who told the Kan public broadcaster that Edelstein was “making a mistake” because Netanyahu would beat him in a primary vote.

Regev said she would back Netanyahu and noted that he had been selected to lead the party many times in the past.

“He is a great asset to Likud,” she said of Netanyahu, who has led the party since 2005.

Regev also repeated her recent declarations that should Netanyahu step down, she herself would run for the party leadership.

Likud MK Miri Rege in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on August 2 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Another close associate of Netanyahu, Likud MK Shlomo Karhi, accused Edelstein of deserting the party for the coalition government.

“Astounding,” he wrote in a Facebook post after the Channel 12 interview with Edelstein was broadcast.

While the entire right-wing opposition was united behind “the only leader that Israel wants at the moment, Netanyahu,” Edelstein was engaging in friendly fire, Karhi charged.

“With support tending toward zero and lust for a position that he will never reach, he is weakening the entire opposition with unbridled subversion, as though without him the entire national camp were sentenced to life in the opposition,” Karhi said.

“We will see if he remains in Likud or if he deserts to the left like his loser friends,” Karhi said, referring to Likud lawmakers who left the party ahead of the last election to join parties that are now in the government.

Likud MK Shlomo Karhi attends an Arrangements Committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on June 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Former coalition chairman MK Miki Zohar of Likud tweeted that while anyone can put themselves forward for the party leadership, “we will continue to support Benjamin Netanyahu and make sure that he defeats any candidate.”

Likud under Netanyahu was ousted from power in June by a coalition of leftist, centrist, and right-wing parties led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

Some of the parties that joined the coalition are politically aligned with Likud but refused to join it in government if it were still being led by Netanyahu, who is on trial in three corruption cases.

Likud did not win outright power in the past four elections under Netanyahu, “and apparently it never will” under the former prime minister’s leadership, Edelstein said in the Channel 12 interview. “More and more people in Likud are starting to internalize this.”

Likud last held primaries in 2019.

Though he acknowledged primaries were not scheduled to be held soon, possibly not for another three years, Edelstein expressed hope that an internal party vote would be called in the coming months.

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