Likud’s True Test Today as Central Committee Goes to the Polls

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The 2,525 members of the Likud Central Committee, the party’s governing body, have an opportunity to cast their vote today, Thursday, permitting them to hold elections for party leadership slots as scheduled or to accept a plea from party leader Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, to push of the move once again. Netanyahu is well-aware that his leadership has taken the party to a place far from the ideology of its founding fathers, and elections in the party would significantly strengthen the internal opposition, the Manhigut Yehudit faction headed by Moshe Feiglin, who represents a return to those values.

The prime minister cleared his schedule for 48 hours on Tuesday and Wednesday, attending party events to address central committee members in person. He enlisted the aid of Binyamin Begin, a government minister and son of party forefather Menachem Begin, hoping his influence would assist in halting elections. Out of character, Begin made an emotional appeal on behalf of supporting Netanyahu’s position, despite the fact that he is well-aware that Netanyahu has indeed betrayed the party ideology. During Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister over a decade ago, Begin quit the cabinet in protest over his ideologically bankrupt policies. This time around it appears the prime minister has succeeded in enlisting Begin’s support.

Polls opened in Israel at 10:00am in 28 locations, and they will operate until 10:00pm. In order for the prime minister to realize a victory, he will need 1,500 supporters to come out and vote, but he is aware that the central committee members are quite complacent and getting them to actually vote is no easy task.

This is not the case with Feiglin loyalists, who realize the mission at hand, continuing their struggle to turn the Likud around. Feiglin, unlike most of the other newcomers to the political scene, a number of years ago realized that rather than starting yet another new party he would be better off to join Likud and to begin working to enlist supporters towards gaining sufficient influence in the party to bring it back on track. If successful, he will become an influential force in the nation’s largest party rather that standing at the head of a small insignificant party.

Netanyahu rarely refers to Feiglin by name, opting to seek to delegitimize him and his followers, using terms like “those among us” or the “small fanatic faction”. A seasoned diplomat endowed with unique oratorical skills, he is aware that it is not about ideology or facts, but persuading the members of the party’s governing body, instilling fear among them that a vote for Feiglin is  a nail in Likud’s coffin.

Feiglin, while frustrated remains optimistic, aware that time is on his side, painfully and slowly growing and gaining support for the young guard of the party tends to lean more to the political right and identifies with traditional and Torah values.

Most analysts feel that Feiglin has already won, compelling the prime minister to clear his schedule for two days, sending a clear message that Feiglin and his followers represent a formidable force within the Likud today. It is also noteworthy that Minister of Negev & Galil Development Silvan Shalom, the prime minister’s nemesis, who is far from a supporter of Feiglin, is using this opportunity to support Feiglin, realizing the vote provides him an opportunity to strike back after Netanyahu did not appoint him foreign minister in the current cabinet despite his high ranking in the party lineup.

11:45AM IL: There are incidents being reported, in Beit Shemesh and other areas. Feiglin representatives are threatening to prevent voters from entering after Netanyahu supporters prevented Feiglin poll watchers from entering voting stations.

(Yechiel Spira – YWN Israel)