MKs scrap in factious faction meet as Likud tries to navigate opposition life

Recordings aired by Channel 12 show frustrations within Netanyahu’s party over MKs skipping votes, being forced to boycott committees, or having to vote against their own interests

MKs David Amsalem and David Bitan of Likud at the Arrangements Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on July 5, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative: MKs David Amsalem and David Bitan of Likud at the Arrangements Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on July 5, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Leaked recordings from an internal Likud meeting this week appeared to point to frustrations within the party, as it tries to settle into its new role leading the opposition.

At a faction meeting Monday, Likud lawmakers could be heard on the tapes aired by Channel 12 news bickering over various strategies to counter the governing coalition.

In power from 2009 to 2021, Likud now finds itself in unfamiliar territory in the opposition and has uneven success in attempts to embarrass the coalition or impede its legislative agenda.

In one part of the edited recording, lawmakers fall out over the party’s decision to boycott Knesset Committees in protest over the fact that it did not receive the same representation normally afforded the opposition.

MK Avi Dichter, a former head of the Shin Bet, argues that the policy is hurting the party because it is blocking it from participating in the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee, meaning it won’t have any say over the defense budget.

But fellow MK David Amsalem retorts that it’s more important for the party to stick to its guns and get what should be coming to it.

“We’re being robbed and we’re not going to take it. Period,” he is heard saying.

Likud parliament member David Amsallem adresses the Israeli parliament during a discussion on the state budget at the assembly hall in the Israeli parliament, September 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The recordings include MK David Bitan also complaining over the fact that some party members are not present for key votes, raising his voice above that of party leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

Last week, Netanyahu was one of a number of party members who skipped a preliminary vote on expanding access to medical marijuana, apparently believing that the coalition did not have enough support anyway. The vote passed 54-42.

“I’m beating myself up over my screw-up last week,” Netanyahu says as Bitan calls for sanctions on lawmakers who miss votes. “Let’s forget it and move on.”

“Forget it? It can’t be erased. They need to be sanctioned. If not, I’ll vote how I want, I’m telling you.”

Likud MK David Bitan at the Knesset in Jerusalem on July 6, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The MKs also sparred over whether MKs could travel abroad if it meant missing votes, with MK Haim Katz accusing Yariv Levin of withholding information regarding efforts to muster enough opposition for votes.

“You’re the one in charge of this and not giving us any updates. A lack of information is one of the things that leads to tragedy,” Katz charged.

Levin denied withholding any information.

Likud’s efforts in the opposition have included pushing forward bills on matters ostensibly backed by the coalition, in an effort to embarrass them into voting against their own agenda. But in the recordings, MK Keti Shitrit complains that reflexively voting against coalition bills means they are also killing their legislative darlings.

“It makes no sense that I vote against a law that I proposed and that [Yesh Atid MK] Merav Ben Ari proposed just because she is in the coalition and I am in the opposition and I have to vote against,” she says. “I worked, she just copied my bill word for word. It’s my law, I drafted it, it’s just unbelievable.”

The combative meeting came days after senior Likud lawmaker Yuli Edelstein announced he would challenge Netanyahu for the party leadership, threatening to further rend the faction.

Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Yuli Edelstein and Yariv Levin at the Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset on April 30, 2019 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

On Tuesday, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar announced he would propose legislation that would potentially ban Netanyahu from being tasked with forming a government after elections take place again, due to three indictments against him.

Levin told ToI sister site Zman Yisrael that Netanyahu still plans to hold onto the party leadership, and will campaign on overturning the law should new elections be called.

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