Spots also reserved for Orly Levy-Abekasis, Ofir Sofer

Netanyahu recruits first-ever Muslim to Likud list, also adds firebrand novelist

School principal Nail Zoabi placed in low 39th slot, but party says Norwegian Law will ensure he gets Knesset seat; Galit Distal Atbaryan given No. 10 slot, party files its slate

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Screen capture from video of Nail Zoabi. (YouTube)
Screen capture from video of Nail Zoabi. (YouTube)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud announced he had picked school principal Nail Zoabi to be the first-ever Muslim on the party’s Knesset slate, shortly before the party registered its final slate for the March Knesset elections a short while ahead of the deadline

Zoabi will be placed 39 on the party’s roster for the March 23 elections, a spot that likely won’t enter the Knesset. But Likud said that Zoabi will become an MK when it uses the so-called Norwegian law in the next government — which it hopes to form — which will see Likud MKs who are appointed as ministers resign from the Knesset, freeing up spots for more MKs from its slate.

Zoabi, from the Arab Israeli village of Nein in the Galilee, is a supporter of Netanyahu and longtime Likud activist. The Times of Israel and its Hebrew-language sister site, Zman Yisrael, reported the premier’s intention to recruit Zoabi in early January.

Netanyahu has publicly declared he hopes to win votes from the Arab community in the coming March elections and has made a number of high-profile visits to Arab-Israeli towns.

Earlier Thursday, Netanyahu named firebrand right-wing media personality and novelist Galit Distal Atbaryan to the 10th place on the Likud’s slate, the highest spot he has the authority to choose.

Israeli author and media personality Galit Distal Atbaryan. (CC BY-SA 4.0 Galit Distel Atbaryan/Wikimedia)

Distal Atbaryan, 50, gained fame in Israel for two critically acclaimed novels released in 2009 and 2014. Since then, she has made a name for herself as a blunt and often controversial right-wing political commentator with a penchant for unequivocally backing Netanyahu.

Revealing her as his pick for the 10th spot, Netanyahu said Distal Atbaryan was “an independent woman, a woman who does not hesitate to express her opinions, a woman who comes from the people, knows the people, the self-employed and the small businesses, but above all believes in right-wing ideology.”

He said that the choice of Distal Atbaryan “will help us achieve our great goal — a fully-fledged right-wing government.”

Appearing alongside Netanyahu in a clip released to his social media channels, Distal Atbaryan thanked the prime minister, saying: “I think the Likud led by you is a political home I could only dream of.”

A popular talking head for various right-wing media outlets, Distal Atbaryan has become one of Netanyahu’s most outspoken backers, alleging that the criminal charges he faces are a “judicial coup” aimed at bringing down Israel’s right-wing rule. In November 2019, she was the emcee for a pro-Netanyahu and anti-justice system rally held in Tel Aviv and organized, in part, by Likud.

Netanyahu is on trial in three corruption cases that include charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. The prime minister denies any wrongdoing.

The last time the Likud party held primaries was before the elections in April 2019. Ahead of the following two elections — in September that year and in March 2020 — the party’s court approved the cancellation of the internal elections for the electoral slate due to their proximity to the primaries held ahead of the April 2019 national election.

Ahead of the upcoming March election, the party last month approved Netanyahu’s request to again cancel the primaries and keep the slate it had in the previous three cycles, other than six spots reserved for the premier’s picks: the 10th, 26th, 28th, 36th, 39th and 40th.

Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Hagit Moshe, at the Jerusalem municipality, May 3, 2016 (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

He had reportedly promised the 28th place to Jewish Home chair Hagit Moshe as part of a deal to bring her party into the new alliance of far-right-parties led by the Religious Zionism party head, Bezalel Smotrich. Netanyahu had been pushing the merger as an effort to prevent right-wing satellite parties from failing to pass the electoral threshold and wasting right-wing votes.

However, after understanding that Jewish Home would not merge with Smotrich’s party, Likud announced that it had agreed for Religious Zionism’s Ofir Sofer to take the 28th spot instead.

Additionally, filing the slate with the Central Elections Committee, Likud announced that it had given Communities Minister Orly Levy-Abekasis the 26th spot. Levy-Abekasis ran in the last election as part of an alliance between her Gesher party and the left-wing Labor and Meretz parties.

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