With the Bennett-Lapid coalition having gained some stability after passing the new state budget, the opposition Likud party has turned its attention inward, to its own political future.
A Likud court expelled on Wednesday about 1,000 members affiliated with the New Likudniks group, which it accused of seeking to wrest control of the party from Binyamin Netanyahu.
While the New Likudniks say they want to advance “the economic interests of the middle class” and the “preservation of liberal democracy,” opponents have depicted them as undercover leftists, agents of Meretz out to destroy the Likud.
Another 7,000 members of the faction were also targeted for scrutiny on a case-by-case basis by party officials.
The expulsions come as a struggle over control of the party appears to be intensifying between its longtime chairman Netanyahu versus rivals such as former Finance Minister and chair of the party secretariat Yisrael Katz, former mayor of Yerushalayim Nir Barkat and former Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein.
In an online posting on Tuesday, Netanyahu accused Katz of collaborating with the New Likudniks.
“While most Likud members are struggling against this movement, there are some who prefer to use them for votes in the primaries at the expense of the state and the party,” Netanyahu wrote.
“I expected all Likud members, including the party leaders, to use all their power to work to expel them from the movement. Everyone did this except for Yisrael Katz, who has worked in the opposite direction,” he said.
Sources in the New Likudniks confirmed to The Jerusalem Post that they have made deals with Katz, Barkat and other Likud MKs.
“This is all about Netanyahu’s control over the party,” a source in the New Likudniks said. “He wants everyone who doesn’t support him out of the party. If he wants us removed and it is not happening, it proves something interesting is happening in the Likud.”
Recent polls show that Netanyahu still holds sway over the party, and that none of the current aspiring successors could beat him in primaries, which have yet to be scheduled.
Asked who they would back as Likud leader if Netanyahu were to retire, 27 percent of Likud respondents named former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, followed by Barkat with 16%, Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan with 8%, followed by Katz with 5% and Edelstein with 5%, according to a recent Channel 12 news poll