Netanyahu’s political allies cheer his reelection as Likud leader

Shas chairman Aryeh Deri vows right-wing bloc supporting PM will remain intact, hopes for establishment of ‘strong right-wing government’ after March general election

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a rally in his support in Jerusalem on December 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a rally in his support in Jerusalem on December 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing political allies rushed to congratulate the newly reelected Likud leader overnight Thursday-Friday,  following his knockout victory over challenger Gideon Sa’ar in the party’s leadership primary.

Shas leader Aryeh Deri phoned Netanyahu shortly after the announcement of the final official results, which saw the prime minister secure 72.5% of the vote to Sa’ar’s 27.5% despite a series of criminal charges against him and his failure to form a government following the April and September elections.

“As a partner, I am happy about the great display of confidence you received this evening from a large population,” tweeted Deri. “We will uphold the right-wing bloc and will establish, with the help of God, a strong right-wing government, which will preserve the Jewish character of the state.”

Jewish Home-National Union MK Betzalel Smotrich similarly cheered the victory.

Shas party chairman and Minister of Interior Affairs Aryeh Deri (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a ceremony marking the six year anniversary of death of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, at the Knesset, November 4, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“Congratulations for the democratic display which roused the electorate and gave your leadership a renewed mandate,” he said, calling for similar primaries among the fragmented right-wing national religious parties.

Shas and Jewish Home were part of the 55-MK bloc of right-wing and religious parties who supported Netanyahu for premier following the September elections, and whose support for the Likud leader is expected to continue through the upcoming election campaign. Should Netanyahu seek parliamentary immunity from the criminal charges against him, the support of his allies would be key to the passage of the measure.

Netanyahu’s reelection was also met with applause by his supporters within Likud, who insisted it portended a broader victory for the right-wing party in the upcoming March 2 national elections — the third in under a year.

“Netanyahu’s big victory proves Likud is united and determined to win in the general elections,” tweeted Likud minister Gila Gamliel. “Likud members sent a clear message that only the people will decide who will lead the State of Israel in the next four years.”

Netanyahu declared victory in the leadership vote soon after midnight Thursday-Friday, as the count was underway, while Sa’ar conceded an hour later. As the final results were announced, Sa’ar called Netanyahu to congratulate him.

Likud MK Gideon Saar arrives with his wife Geula Even-Sa’ar at a voting station to cast his vote in the Likud leadership race, in Tel Aviv, on December 26, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“This is a huge victory! Thank you Likud members for your trust, support and love,” Netanyahu said in a message to supporters, vowing to “lead Likud to a great victory in the upcoming [national] elections and continue to lead the State of Israel to unprecedented achievements.”

At 1 a.m., Sa’ar conceded defeat, saying that while “we don’t have the final figures, the result is clear.” He said he would “congratulate the prime minister on his victory,” and pledged support for Netanyahu and Likud ahead of the March 2 general elections. “The contest was vital to the Likud and its democratic character,” said Sa’ar. “My decision to run was right and necessary. Whoever isn’t prepared to take a chance for the path he believes in, will never win.”

The contest was the first significant challenge to Netanyahu’s leadership of the Likud in more than a decade, but he maintained the support of the vast majority of the party’s Knesset members and its prominent local leaders and activists, and can thus utilize the result as a boost ahead of Israel’s third general elections in under a year.

Netanyahu, who has piloted the right-wing party since 2005, was widely seen as likely to win the contest easily, despite having recently been charged in three criminal cases.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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