Likud Scrambling for Big Numbers at Tel Aviv Rally to Support PM

YERUSHALAYIM -
Supporters of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu show their support outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Yerushalayim, last Thursday. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

With Likud MK Gideon Saar throwing down the gauntlet Tuesday, calling in an interview for Binyamin Netanyahu to step down, a planned rally of support for the prime minister took on greater importance, with party officials scrambling to ensure a big turnout for what many are viewing as an informal referendum on Netanyahu’s leadership.

Media reports Tuesday said that party officials were turning on the pressure Tuesday to ensure that MKs, Central Committee members, and rank and file Likud members show up at the rally in central Tel Aviv set for Tuesday night.

Yediot Acharonot said that Netanyahu was likely to be disappointed; a large number of MKs and ministers are not planning to attend, not necessarily because they would support Saar in a bid for the party leadership, but because they are uncomfortable with the theme of the rally – with Netanyahu likely to castigate law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and the State Attorney as he continues the calls to “investigate the investigators” who were behind the indictments to be issued against him.

Among the ministers and top Likud officials who are not expected to show are Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked, Rabbi Aryeh Deri, Rabbi Yaakov Litzman, Yisrael Katz, Yuli Edelstein, Gilad Erdan, and others.

Likud MK Yoav Kisch will not be there either, according to Likud sources, who quoted him as saying that “MKs do not need to participate in demonstrations.” But Kisch is not on Saar’s “side,” and has in recent days made public statements in support of Netanyahu.

Neither is Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz, who earlier Tuesday criticized Saar for calling on Netanyahu to quit, saying he had crossed “a red line. If we are forced into new elections, I will be supporting Binyamin Netanyahu,” Katz said.

Netanyahu on Sunday called for primaries to be held – as Saar has been demanding – in about six weeks, and initial polls show that he would beat Saar for party leadership. The poll, broadcast on Channel 13, showed that 53% of Likud members supported Netanyahu for that role, while Saar would get just 40% of the vote. When asked who should lead the Likud if Netanyahu decides (or is forced to decide) that he no longer can, 39.4% chose Saar, while 23.6% preferred former Yerushalayim Mayor Nir Barkat. Far behind were Yisrael Katz (6.2%), Yuli Edelstein (4.4%), and Miri Regev (2.3%). And 18.6% have not made up their mind, the poll showed.