In an interview with Channel 20, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu asserted that he would prevent the takeover of the Likud by “foreign elements” who are “not interested in the Likud.” He would remain in charge of the party, and new members who are allegedly joining the party to remove him from leadership of the party – and who would never vote for the Likud – “are acting immorally,” Netanyahu said.
According to reports, Likud officials have discovered that as many as 10,000 people have registered for membership in the Likud, despite the fact that they are already members of other parties. Under Israeli election law, membership is permitted in only one party at a time. Of the “double registrants,” many registered as part of the “New Likudniks faction,” a group that Netanyahu loyalists claim exists only to replace the prime minister as head of the party. “The attempt by this leftist group to pad the Likud membership rolls in order to vote out Binyamin Netanyahu from party leadership is a criminal action,” Bitan told Ma’ariv, which broke the story on the ejection of members of the “New Likudniks” faction. “This is an organized plot to take over the Likud from within.”
According to the figures, 5,746 of the New Likudniks had previously registered as Labor Party members, 2,862 were members of Jewish Home, and 1,297 were Meretz members. The group claims some 12,000 members in the Likud, but Bitan said it was significantly less than that. As it is illegal for an individual to be a member of two parties, Bitan said that the Likud intended to pursue legal action against the “double joiners. Some of these people have sent us letters of apology and have asked that we not attempt to get them served with criminal charges. We are considering accepting those apologies. The party has the right to defend itself, and we have no obligation to accept members who do not subscribe to the values of our party.”
In the Channel 20 interview, Netanyahu drew a parallel between the current situation and that of the Manhigut Yehudit (Jewish Leadership) faction, led by former MK Moshe Feiglin. Feiglin served in the Knesset between 2013 and 2015, having been voted onto the party list by members of Manhigut Yehudit who chose him in party primaries, placing him 14th on the party list. He had also run against Netanyahu for party leadership several times, garnering nearly a quarter of all votes twice. By the 2015 elections, the Likud had changed its constitution to make it more difficult for Manhigut Yehudit members to vote in primaries, and Feiglin fell to the “unrealistic” 35th position. He then dropped out of the Likud to form his own party, called Zehut (Identity), which he intends to run in the next election.
“The ‘New Likudniks’ are neither new nor Likudniks,” Netanyahu said. “In the past, we were able to halt attempts from outside the party to take it over, and we will do so this time as well. These people are leftists who want to take over the Likud, to use our democracy to destroy the Likud and all it stands for. We can defend ourselves against this as we did against the attempt by Moshe Feiglin to take over the party, using legal means,” including constitutional changes, he added.