Report: Economy Minister Barkat plans to challenge Netanyahu for Likud leadership

Barkat said to tell Likud supporters that party needs new leadership to regain public trust in wake of October 7 failures

File - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right), and Economy Minister Nir Barkat in the Knesset on February 22, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
File - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right), and Economy Minister Nir Barkat in the Knesset on February 22, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Economy Minister Nir Barkat, a senior member of the ruling Likud party, is reportedly planning to challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 18-year leadership of the party after the ongoing war, saying the party “needs change” and urging that national elections be held after the war is over.

“I won’t support Netanyahu again. After the war, we must turn to the people and get their trust anew. Likud needs change,” Barkat told Likud activists last week at a bike store in Kiryat Gat, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

“I’m acting in accordance with an agenda, and it is nearing completion,” he added. According to the report, this would mean Barkat running for the leadership of the Likud party even if Netanyahu doesn’t step down. Without citing a source, the report said Barkat has confirmed in private meetings that this is his intention.

Barkat, a former Jerusalem mayor and tech millionaire, responded to the report by saying: “I don’t intend to cooperate with political officials who have an ulterior motive. It is no secret that I have professional criticism that relates to the issue of the budget, which I believe will be solved.”

Barkat has threatened to vote against the wartime budget update this week, publicly decrying it as insufficient to answer wartime economic needs. A source close to the economy minister has said that the budget, as presented, “will lead to economic collapse.” Barkat was absent on Monday from a Knesset vote on raising the debt ceiling.

Kan notes that its report, however, has nothing to do with the budget issue.

Economy Minister Nir Barkat (center) speaks at a meeting of the Knesset Economy Committee, October 25, 2023. (Courtesy)

While Barkat has expressed in the past his desire to run for the leadership of Likud, he had said that he would only do so after Netanyahu leaves the political scene.

Criticism of Netanyahu has risen since the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre. Recent polls show Netanyahu’s coalition of 64 Knesset seats shrinking to just 41, with Likud dropping from 32 seats to 18. Other polls show that over 50 percent of the population believes that the prime minister should resign after the end of the war.

Netanyahu has refrained from taking responsibility for the failures that led to the devastating Hamas assault that killed some 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and saw 240 taken hostage.

He has said that issues of culpability will be addressed after the war.

After Likud’s loss in the 2021 election, Likud MK Yuli Edelstein said he would challenge Netanyahu for the leadership but later changed his mind, citing the need to not draw the party into infighting.

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