Political rivals accused the Likud party of being in the cult-like thrall of faction leader Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday, charging that politicians who performed well in the Likud primary would attempt to destroy the rule of law and Israel’s courts at the former prime minister’s behest.
The allegations came as Likud announced the results of its primary held a day earlier, which saw Netanyahu loyalists pushed to the top of the party slate, while those who challenged the opposition leader were shoved toward the bottom of the roster. The criticism also focused on the male-heavy makeup of the party slate, which includes only a single woman among the top 10 slots.
“The extreme and abrasive Likud list makes clear exactly what the coming government will look like if Netanyahu gets [a coalition of] 61 seats — destruction of the court system… and destroying the rule of law,” read a missive from the Blue and White and New Hope parties, which are running together in the upcoming election.
“There’s no place in the ‘Bibistan’ party for believers in the legacy of [Ze’ev] Jabotinsky and [Menachem] Begin,” the statement added, referring to the revisionist Zionist lionized by the party and its first prime minister.
Critics, including New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar, have accused Netanyahu of hijacking the party and pushing out those who support the party’s ideological vision but not him or his alleged attempts to make his legal troubles disappear.
Sa’ar, formerly a lifelong Likud member, left to form his own party after losing to Netanyahu in a contest for party leadership, and has brought in other anti-Netanyahu discontents fleeing the party.
Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman also attacked the Netanyahu cult of personality, jokingly tying it into the minor Jewish holiday of Tu b’Av, which began Thursday night and is traditionally associated with love.
“The Likud primaries results released for Tu b’Av: the more you love Bibi the higher you go in the Likud list. If you don’t, you get pushed out of the Likud ranks,” he tweeted.
Likud has been projected to win between 32 and 35 seats in November’s elections, which would make it the largest party and could give Netanyahu a chance at reclaiming power after a year leading the opposition.
As in the previous four elections, November’s vote is largely seen as a referendum on the Likud leader, and the primary was largely seen as a litmus test for the level of support he has within the party.
Finishing first in the voting was Yariv Levin, considered Netanyahu’s righthand man in the Knesset. Most recently, Levin — helped by Yoav Kisch, who also placed in the top 10 — managed Knesset dissolution negotiations with the coalition on behalf of the Likud-led opposition. Levin is also the brain behind the party’s judicial reform agenda, and has advocated for it since his days as a lawyer.
Other Netanyahu supporters rewarded by Likud voters include former ministers Amir Ohana, Miri Regev, Eli Cohen and former coalition whip Miki Zohar. Shlomo Karhi followed closely behind at number 12, a strong finish in his second primary.
Yuli Edelstein, a Likud stalwart who finished first in balloting in the previous primary, fell to 23rd position, as voters seemingly punished him for professing his desire to eventually challenge Netanyahu for the party leadership.
According to reports from the Kan public broadcaster, Edelstein has since threatened to quit the Likud if he is not named a minister in the next government.
With Regev the only woman elected in the top 10, the Labor party took aim at the male-dominated slate, posting a picture of the party’s top vote-getters and adorning three with women’s hair.
“Here, we fixed it for you,” the party quipped on Twitter.
הנה, תיקנו לכם. pic.twitter.com/N0WqKyCK86
— מפלגת העבודה (@HavodaParty) August 11, 2022
Yair Golan, a member of the left-wing Meretz party, called the primary results “a good day for rapists.”
Golan was referring to Tally Gotliv, who has defended a handful of alleged rapists and suspected sexual predators in her career as an attorney. Gotliv finished near the bottom of voting, but will likely be moved up into a spot reserved for a female freshman.
Ayelet Shaked’s right-wing Zionist Spirit party, which has attempted to leave the door open to an alliance with Netanyahu without openly backing him, issued a similarly agnostic statement addressed to the party’s “new leaders.”
“The Zionist Spirit calls on the new leaders of the Likud to speak with a loud voice — we want unity and stability,” it said in a statement.
Itamar Ben Gvir, leader of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, wished the new Likud list well and previewed future cooperation with the party.
“With joint forces we will bring about change in the court system and return personal security to Israeli citizens,” he said.
Since 2015, Netanyahu has sought to muzzle the Supreme Court’s checks on the Knesset, portraying the court as a bastion of leftism seeking to undermine the voters’ will, though critics say his attempts at judicial reform are now also aimed at wriggling out of his indictments in three separate corruption cases.
Netanyahu has maintained his innocence and claims the charges are the result of politically motivated police, politicians and a leftist media, enabled by a weak attorney general.
Netanyahu’s spot on the top of the list went unchallenged in the primary. He congratulated party members for electing an “excellent team” in Thursday’s primary elections.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report