Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday won the backing of the powerful Likud Central Committee for a series of procedural proposals heavily impacting the party slate in the upcoming elections.
The vote, which passed with 63 percent support from committee members, means Netanyahu heads to the polls with more control in shaping the party list ahead of the upcoming primaries and with his party united behind him.
Netanyahu will now be able to reserve the 21st spot on the list for a candidate of his choosing who will not have to run in the February 5 primaries. It also allows the prime minister to request another spot, number 19, “if there is a need” nearer the elections.
“I thank the members of the Likud Central Committee for their powerful support for me and my proposal,” Netanyahu said. “The Likud is united ahead of the elections where we will again ask the public for their support to continue to lead the State of Israel to great achievements in security, diplomacy, in society and the economy.
Another clause passed by the committee members determined that the first 18 spots on the electoral list will go to candidates running in a nation-wide ballot while spots for district representatives will be pushed to 22 and beyond. Additionally, the 10th, 20th, 25th spot and 31st spot will be filled by women with the final two of those reserved for a candidate who has not yet been elected to the Knesset.
The most controversial clause was a proposal to allow MK Avraham Neguise to run again in the spot reserved for new immigrants.
General party protocol holds that anyone who was a sitting MK needs to run on the general list in the primaries. However, Netanyahu proposed letting Neguise, originally from Ethiopia, take the safe spot again even though there was widespread opposition to the move.
The 30th place on the list, reserved for a non-Jewish candidate, will however remain open only for new contenders and not past MKs, meaning that Communications Minister Ayoub Kara will be forced to run for the one of the national candidate spots.
In a controversial move, the committee also announced that it was freezing the membership of 14 members of the “New Likud” faction and they would not be able to run in the primaries.
The New Likudniks was founded in 2011 by leaders of the social justice protests, which that summer saw hundreds of thousands of Israelis take to the streets to demand government action on behalf of the middle class. The group’s stated agenda is to push what it says are middle-class interests from within Likud. It takes no position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But many Likud members, as well as journalists and pundits, have questioned the right-wing credentials of the New Likudniks. They have accused members of the group of being undercover leftists trying to influence the party from within.
One of the members who was expelled told the Ynet news site that the move was political persecution and said they would appeal the legality of the move in court.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.