Netanyahu calls for right-wing unity as Likud voters stream to polls

Some 120,000 Likud voters headed to party primaries on Tuesday as Netanyahu called for a strong turnout.

By David Isaac, World Israel News

With Israel’s right splintered among warring parties and the left exploring ways to coalesce, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for a strong turnout as 120,000 Likud party voters headed to the polls on Tuesday to determine the party’s list of candidates that will compete in the April 9 elections.

“Combinations among left-wing parties endanger us,” Netanyahu said, according to Israel Hayom. The paper reported that the prime minister had reached out to the new head of the Jewish Home party, Rabbi Rafi Peretz, on Monday night, asking him to work for the unification of small right-wing parties, among them Otzma Yehudit (“Jewish Strength”) and Zehut (“Identity”).

Polls show that neither party will pass the electoral threshold of 3.25 percent. That is the minimum percentage of the national vote a party requires in order to enter Israel’s parliament with four seats. Netanyahu fears that if one or more of the right-wing parties fail to pass the electoral threshold, it may be enough to bring a left-wing government to power, Israel Hayom reports.

Netanyahu failed in an eleventh hour bid to lower the electoral threshold immediately following the announcement of Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked that they were leaving the Jewish Home party to form the New Right party. Ironically, Israel’s right has led a decades-long effort to raise the electoral threshold with the purpose of creating more political stability by reducing the number of smaller parties.

Fighting for a seat

Polls consistently show the Likud taking 30 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. That means, the 143 Likud candidates are competing for less than 30 spots, actually 21, as some spots have already been set aside for various reasons (Netanyahu asked Likud officials to grant him the right to pick three candidates, two more than usual, arguing it was necessary “to ensure victory”). Likud members will vote whether to approve Netanyahu’s request during the primaries.

This fact has raised the tension in these primaries, as more than 30 current Likud Knesset members compete for the limited openings. None want to find themselves among the 10 left out in the cold when the 21st Knesset convenes after the April 9 elections.

Likud candidates have been scouring the land for votes, visiting local Likud branches to drum up support, Israel Hayom reports. Even senior ministers have been lobbying hard, seeing themselves as potential heirs to Netanyahu, they want to finish as close to the top of the Likud food chain as possible.