Netanyahu’s alleged ‘hit list’ sends Likud into ‘tailspin,’ party sources say

‘Likud in a tailspin’ read the headline of the front page story in Monday’s Israel Hayom daily paper.

By David Isaac, World Israel News

‘Likud in a tailspin’ read the headline of the front page story in Monday’s Israel Hayom, the country’s most widely read daily. The ‘tailspin’ comes as a result of an earlier report by the paper claiming that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has “compiled an ‘endorsement list’ and a ‘hit list’ for candidates.”

Polls consistently show Netanyahu’s Likud party taking about 30 seats in the 120-seat Israeli parliament in the upcoming April 9 elections. Where Likud politicians land on the list will be decided in Tuesday’s party primaries as 73 candidates compete for a top spot to ensure their entry into the Knesset.

When Israel Hayom listed Netanyahu’s favored candidates, it created a storm. Senior Likud sources told the paper that the publication of the prime minister’s favorites “sent the party into a tailspin.” Everyone in the party is talking about it, the sources said.

Netanyahu tried to quell the fires, denying he had formed any such lists. He released a statement that read: “My endorsement list includes all incumbent Likud lawmakers. That is why I made sure to increase the number of spots up for grabs in the nationwide primary. I have full faith that Likud members will choose the best people from the great crop of candidates.”

The prime minister partly undermined his own message by appearing to endorse Likud MK and Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein, who had not appeared on the endorsement list published by Israel Hayom.

Members of Knesset react

Likud party members of Knesset took the endorsement list seriously. Those who found themselves selected reacted positively to the news.

Likud MK Ze’ev Elkin, who serves as both minister of Jerusalem affairs and environmental protection, told Israel Hayom, “I’m happy that I’m among the ministers and members of Knesset that the prime minister endorses. This isn’t surprising, since for years we’ve worked hand in hand in the political field and in state matters, like in all issues related to Russia.”

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said after the list was published, “I don’t need a leaked official endorsement list. The entire way I saw part of my role as helping the prime minister, backing him up; and I’m convinced that Likud members are aware of this and appreciate it.”

However, Likud MK Oren Hazan, who found himself on neither the endorsement list nor the hit list, lashed out at those surrounding the prime minister as “acting like a crime family.” Though he was careful to say they did so without the prime minister’s knowledge. “These lists are a result of different interests who are advancing themselves at the prime minister’s expense…. causing him and the movement damage,” Hazan said, according to Israel Hayom.

Sa’ar under fire

While Netanyahu denies having lists, he clearly wants to stop Gideon Sa’ar from advancing in the Likud elections. A former close confidant of the prime minister, Sa’ar came under attack from Netanyahu on Sunday.

On a debut episode of a new Likud party web channel, Netanyahu accused Sa’ar of planning a putsch against him, repeating the startling accusation he first made on October 24.

“Sa’ar’s attempt will not succeed. Democracy will not let this happen,” Netanyahu said.

“More than two or three people in the Likud party came to me and said that Sa’ar had approached them and asked for their support. ‘Here is what I am planning. After the elections, they will not place the formation of a government on Netanyahu — they will say that he’s in a [pre-indictment] hearing, so they will need someone else from the Likud party and I am asking for your support,’” Netanyahu said.

Sa’ar took to the airwaves on Monday to deny the prime minister’s attacks on two radio stations. He also tweeted: “Unfortunately, two days before the primaries, the prime minister chose to try and recycle the false plot he made for the first time a few months ago.”

“The goal is transparent: an attempt to hurt me in the primaries. Likud members are smart and know very well that these things are baseless. On the eve of critical elections for the Likud party and Israel, I will act as a responsible adult and will not get dragged into an internal war,” he said.