With 10 days remaining until the leadership primary in the Likud party, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main challenger MK Gideon Sa'ar continue to scrappily fight for every vote in an effort to expand their fanbase within the faction.
Although Netanyahu might appear invisible when it comes to being challenged for the party’s leadership, Sa’ar on Sunday received endorsements from two senior Likud officials, MK Etti Atia and MK Sharren Haskel, both of whom are close associates of Likud MK and former welfare and social services, Haim Katz.
Both Atia and Haskel issued official statements, saying they greatly value Netanyahu's contribution to the party but believe that only Sa'ar can keep the right-wing faction in power.
Haskel emphasized she had been subjected to "heavy pressure" and even "threats of political assassination,” if she lent her support to Sa’ar over Netanyahu. “I received some proposals that in other circumstances I would have happily accepted,” she said. “But just as I did not succumb to the pressure, so was I not tempted by the proposals."
Members of Katz’s inner circle deny reports that he has decided to support Sa’ar, saying that although he intends to attend the launch of Netanyahu sole challenger’s campaign on Monday, he would also gladly attend a similar event organized by the prime minister, if he were to be invited.
Even so, it is believed that the influential Katz will eventually support Sa'ar even if he does not actually officially endorse him.
Sources close to the former welfare minister say that his insistence on avoiding public support for Sa’ar is due to his position as chairman of the Likud Central Committee. Therefore, for now he prefers to remain neutral on the issue.
Netanyahu, for his part, continues to hold large events around the country gathering support for his candidacy.
On Sunday night, he took part in three different events in the neighboring cities of Yavne, Rishon LeZion and Rehovot, where Likud supporters shouted “Bibi, the King of Israel.”
"I love you all so much!” the prime minister wrote on his Twitter page. “Thank you for your tremendous support, as I always say, you give me the power to continue to lead our country."
On Monday, Netanyahu was expected to meet with Likud supporters and activists in the central city of Holon.
Likud’s leadership primary will be held next Thursday.
First published: 11:08 , 12.16.19