Likud party voters punished a former challenger to faction leader Benjamin Netanyahu and rewarded two loyalists during Likud’s primary contest on Wednesday, according to initial exit polls.
Close to 80,000 registered party members voted in the primaries throughout the day for their preferred Likud candidates. The results will determine the roster Israel’s largest political party intends to send to the Knesset in the general election on November 1.
Exit polls after the primary vote closed predicted that Yuli Edelstein, a longtime Likud stalwart and its former No. 2, will place 23rd on the party’s electoral slate after challenging Netanyahu’s rule last year. If confirmed in the final taallies, that placement would mean Edelstein would probably not make it back into the Knesset after November’s elections.
Netanyahu, as party leader, holds the top spot on the party’s ticket. Amir Ohana and Yariv Levin, both staunch Netanyahu supporters, garnered the most votes in the hotly-contested primary election, according to an exit poll from Direct Polls.
Ohana was justice minister for a year before the current government was formed in June 2021 and Levin is thought to be a future candidate for the post. Both are closely allied with Netanyahu, and have been seen at the forefront of efforts to extract the opposition leader from his legal morass. Netanyahu is battling corruption charges in three cases.
Rounding out the top six in the Likud primaries were Yoav Kisch, David Amsalem and Yoav Galant, according to the polls. The final results are not expected until Thursday afternoon.
The next spots on the Likud roster are expected to go to Eli Cohen, Nir Barkat, Avi Dichter and Israel Katz. Netanyahu loyalists Miki Zohar and Miri Regev are expected to make it into the Knesset lower down on the slate.
Galit Distal Atbaryan won the most votes of any woman in the party, according to the polls.
Boaz Bismuth, who quit as editor of the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom newspaper to throw his hat in the ring with Likud, was projected to get the highest spot for a newcomer in the primaries, with one poll forecasting him in the 15th slot and another in 10th place, making him a likely shoo-in for the Knesset.
Edelstein, a former Knesset speaker and health minister, used to be a close confidant of Netanyahu, but said last year that he planned to eventually challenge Netanyahu for Likud’s leadership. Netanyahu has led the party since 2005.
Netanyahu’s government at the time was “simply dangerous for Israel,” Edelstein said while announcing his challenge, adding that the party had repeatedly failed to form a stable coalition under the longtime leader. Edelstein gave up the leadership challenge in June.
In the last Likud primaries in 2019, Edelstein was the top vote-getter, placing second on the party’s list behind Netanyahu. Behind Edelstein was Gideon Sa’ar, who later broke with Netanyahu to form his own party, New Hope.
In addition to Edelstein, party mainstays Tzachi Hanegbi, David Bitan and Haim Katz were not expected to make it back into the Knesset after the primaries due to their low placement on the roster, exit polls showed.
Likud’s electoral ticket has reserved spots for certain candidates, meaning anyone who places after 20th in the primaries is unlikely to make it into the Knesset.
The party reserves about a third of its slots for candidates representing certain areas or demographics, as well as leaving spots open to be handed out as political favors during the pre- and post-election coalition negotiations.
Likud is the country’s largest party and is expected to win up to 35 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, according to polling.
Likud opened around 110 ballot boxes throughout the country on Wednesday for its 140,000 registered voters. The party repeatedly extended voting hours into the night to combat low turnout. Polls eventually closed at 10:30 p.m. with around 58% of members voting, similar to previous Likud primaries. Their ballots will be counted by hand at Kfar Maccabiah in Ramat Gan to determine the final results.
Likud is one of just four major parties in Israel that allows members to choose its Knesset slate, along with Religious Zionism, Labor, and Meretz. Most other party rosters are determined by the faction leader or a central committee.