Netanyahu Survives Likud Leadership Challenge

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu easily survived a challenge for leadership of the Likud Party.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has survived a challenge to his leadership of the Likud Party, meaning he will lead the party into the third election inside of a year:

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel easily brushed off a challenge for the leadership of the conservative Likud party early Friday, a crucial victory for Israel’s longest-serving leader but one that may only harden the country’s yearlong political standoff.

For Mr. Netanyahu, the landslide in a party primary on Thursday reaffirmed his political prowess and staying power despite his indictment last month on corruption charges, and it gives a jolt of fresh energy to his campaign for Israel’s next general election in March.

But it also assures that one of Israel’s most polarizing issues will be on the ballot in that election: Mr. Netanyahu himself.

Israel has already had two inconclusive elections this year, each ending in deadlock with voters nearly evenly divided on whether the corruption cases against Mr. Netanyahu should disqualify him from serving a fourth consecutive term.

And though support for Mr. Netanyahu has been slipping since his indictment, recent polls suggest that a third election may not resolve anything. Once again, neither Mr. Netanyahu nor his main opponent, Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White party, may have the votes to form a majority government.

In the party primary on Thursday, the most serious internal leadership challenge Mr. Netanyahu had faced in years, he handily beat a rival party veteran, Gideon Saar, by a vote of 72 percent to 28 percent, according to official results.

“A giant victory!” Mr. Netanyahu declared on Twitter just after midnight, barely more than an hour after the polls closed. “With the help of God and with your help, I will lead Likud to a great victory in the upcoming elections and we will continue to lead the country to unprecedented achievements,” he added.

Mr. Saar congratulated Mr. Netanyahu and conceded defeat in a televised statement an hour later. He said he and his colleagues would stand behind Mr. Netanyahu in the party’s campaign for the general election.

“I am content with my decision to have run” in the primary, Mr. Saar said, adding, “Those who are unwilling to take a risk for what they believe in will never succeed.”

But the fact that there even was a battle exposed cracks in Likud’s long-united front as it prepares for an eventual post-Netanyahu era.

The Jerusalem Post has more, including details about a promise Netanyahu made regarding American support for Israel that would make an even more extensive intervention in the Middle East on behalf of Israel generally and Netanyahu specifically:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised in his victory speech after winning Thursday’s Likud primary that if re-elected prime minister, he will bring about American recognition of Israeli sovereignty over every Jewish community in Judea and Samaria.

Speaking after defeating Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar, Netanyahu did not mention Sa’ar. He instead declared victory over bad weather, the press and “those who distrubute fake polls and fake news.”  He said he received a massive  new mandate from the Likud

“Most of the nation supports the Right and most of the nation supports me to be prime minister,” Netanyahu told the crowd at the Airport City convention center.  “The sweeping victory in the primaries was a huge vote of confidence in me and our path. We proved we can win big”

Netanyahu vowed in the speech that if he wins the March 2 election, he would make sure to obtain more diplomatic accomplishments.

“In the years ahead we will deliver more achievements that could have only been dreamed of,” he said. “We will set our final borders, bring about American recognition for Israeli control over Jordan Valley, the Dead Sea and our sovereignty over every settlement in Judea and Samaria, obtain a defense pact with US that will ensure Israeli freedom to act, we will defeat Iran and achieve a peace pact with Arab countries.”

Netanyahu received 41,792, which was 72.5% of the vote and Sa’ar 15,885 votes, which was 27.5%. Out of the 106 polling stations across the country, Netanyahu won 99 and Sa’ar only seven.

“A huge win!” Netanyahu wrote on Twitter after initial election results started coming in. “Thank you to all members of the Likud for the trust, support and the love. I will lead the Likud to a big win in the upcoming elections and we will continue to lead the State of Israel to incredible achievements.”

Sa’ar called Netanyahu to concede the race and promised him that he and the five Likud MKs who supported him would stand behind the prime minister ahead of the March 2 Knesset race. But after two weeks of Netanyahu’s associates attacking Sa’ar for challenging Netanyahu, Sa’ar said he would not apologize for his campaign.

“This contest was immensely important to the Likud and its democratic character,” he said. I am content with my decision to have run – it was the right decision. Those who are unwilling to take a risk for what they believe in – will never succeed.”

Likud faction chairman Miki Zohar said the results proved that the nation backs Netanyahu despite the media. He called upon Netanyahu to seek immunity from prosecution in his criminal cases so he could remain prime minister.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz responded to the Likud race by saying “the defendant Netanyahu, who is leading the State of Israel down a path of corruption, will continue to lead Likud. Jabotinsky and Begin’s movement, which spoke of the supremacy of law, has elected a leader facing three indictments, who is seeking to unravel the rule of law and secure personal immunity, rather than address the actual concerns of the Israeli people.

Labor-Gesher said the results proved the Likud is disconnected from the nation. The head of Blue and White’s response team, MK Asaf Zamir, wrote on Twitter: “The Likud is now officially the Bibi party, and anyone who is not a complete Bibist – and there still Likudniks like that – does not belong there.”

That Netanyahu was returned to the party leader position by such a large margin isn’t really all that surprising. He’s been the face and voice of the party for more than a decade and his loyalists are firmly in control. If anything was going to dislodge him, it would have been Netanyahu’s recent indictment on corruption charges, but even that wasn’t enough to dissuade the true believers. Sound familiar? Well, it does seem to resemble the adoration that Republicans have developed for Donald Trump, who, like Netanyahu, can seemingly do no wrong that his supporters will not forgive.

This outcome, of course, comes ahead of the next round of elections in March, the third inside of a year. By all indications the result will be roughly the same as they were from the contests in April and September, which resulted in neither Netanyahu nor his chief opponent Benny Gantz being able to form a government. If that happens, then it’s likely that Israeli President Reuven Rivlin will once again attempt to push Likud and Blue & White into a coalition government.

FILED UNDER: Israel, Middle East
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    What is it with conservative and the religious love for corrupt leaders? Oh yeah, the lack of any values beyond power for oneself.

  2. gVOR08 says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: I think a consequence of religion being mostly about tribal identity. The tribe needs a strong chief to defend it. I fear many of us are evolved for living in small tribes.

  3. Kathy says:

    The state of the world tight now can best be described in two quotes:

    “Oh, I understand, but unfortunately this hospital is not equipped to treat stupid.” Althea, the nurse, on The Big bang theory.

    “Folly, thou conquerest, and I must yield!
    Against stupidity the very gods
    Themselves contend in vain. ” Friedrich Schiller.

  4. Stormy Dragon says:


    See Yeats:

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.


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