Some 600 people attended a Likud election rally in Ashdod on Monday, two days ahead of a Central Committee vote on a proposal by leader Benjamin Netanyahu to strip committee members from their exclusive right to elect Likud Knesset candidates and extend the vote to all party members.
Senior Likud members, including Silvan Shalon, Limor Livnat, Yisrael Katz, Reuven Rivlin and Gideon Saar, called on Committee members to support Netanyahu’s motion.
“Central committee members are excellent people. They vilified them unnecessarily...the media doesn’t like this. But, the train is leaving the station and if this is the will of leader Benjamin Netanyahu so it should be supported,” former Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said.
Shalom also slammed Kadima: “He who thinks this is a bread slice with jam should know it is a moldy and dry slice.”
Shalom leveled criticism at the government’s policy towards Hamas and its decision to transfer funds to the Palestinian Authority soon after the Islamic group’s election victory.
“Soon they will ask we speak to them. This government has not resisted pressure and should it win the elections, God forbid, they will talk to Hamas." Shalom said.
Former Education Minister Limor Livnat backed Netanyahu’s motion: “The election of candidates to the Knesset should be done by all party members. I said so nine years ago. Likud is a party that wants to thrive. Those who defected to Kadima thought it is a second Likud, and today they want to go home, but something is holding them.”
Netanyahu spoke last and was welcomed with a standing ovation and chants: “Bibi is the king of Israel.” He said: “We are going together and he who is looking for cracks will fail.”
'No one will protect the Jews'
Lashing out at Olmert, Netanyahu said: “They all say Hamas is a strategic threat to Israel, but Olmert is reassuring that they are not. My friends, if someone is incapable of identifying the problem, he is incapable of solving it. No one will protect the Jews if they do not protect themselves. They first priority of every government is security. We will know how to break Hamas instead of submitting to Hamas. Kadima is a bubble that has not been pierced yet. We have an opportunity to pierce this bubble.”
Netanyahu spoke of his motion on altering elections for Likud Knesset candidates: “I know that our solidarity will help us persuade the public to think which policy should be leading the country. I call on you to vote for my motion on Wednesday.”
Avraham Avidan, the head of the Likud branch in Yavne told Ynet: “The street is boiling. There is no reason why the Likud Committee should give up its rights for one mandate. What will Netanyahu do after the motion is passed? It is not clear to me why I should give up my rights in the Committee.”
The rally was an opportunity to reveal the party’s twofold strategy: The campaign against Kadima on the one hand and the campaign to boost the image of Netanyahu among the public on the other.
Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin used the opportunity to criticize Olmert whom he said lacks the attributes of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. “Kadima is a threat to democracy. A party that is bidding to tell us what democracy is, is a threat to democracy. I knew Arik (Sharon) and he was elected partly because of my assistance. I also know Ehud Olmert and Ehud Olmert is no Sharon. Olmert is no Arik and I say so despite my differences with Sharon.”
The rally’s organizers ushered Netanyahu to the conference hall through the public to boost the leader’s popularity. “We know that Netanyahu’s problem is that many people are angry at him but think he is suitable to be prime minister and we are trying to break the ice between him and the public,” organizers told Ynet.