A group of Likud lawmakers considered allied to Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out at him Monday after they discovered that not only were they in tenuous spots on the party's Knesset list, but that the prime minister himself was trying to push them further down by claiming three spots for his own choices. The list is voted for by Likud members in a party primary and determines the order of preference for lawmakers to sit in parliament, but some spots are reserved for women and special interest groups.
"Loyalty to Netanyahu doesn't pay off," said MK Miki Zohar, who is number 29 on the Likud list. "Throughout the term, we paid a price when defending him, and now we've been abandoned by Netanyahu."
The results of the party's primary elections caused outrage when it became apparent all of the MKs who have been most loyal to the prime minister paid a political price and were ranked low on the party's list.
Those who expected Netanyahu's gratitude and support were surprised to learn the prime minister not only openly worked to advance outside candidates—such as former Kulanu minister Yoav Galant and former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat—but also asked to reserve more spots on the list and insisted that a spot used to increase the number of women on the list was not pushed down.
As a result, many of Netanyahu's loyalists might find themselves out of the 21st Knesset as their spot was too low on the list.
"For four years, you work your ass off for the prime minister and for Likud, you have (the impression) in your surroundings that you are in the right circle at the prime minister's side... and then when the primaries end and you find yourself in spot 26, the Likud management, with the prime minister's support, is working to push you further back," Zohar said. "This is ingratitude."
A group of Likud MKs—including Zohar, Yoav Kisch, Sharren Haskel and former coalition head David Bitan—has petitioned the Likud court with the demand to revoke Netanyahu's reserved spots of 21, 28 and 36.
The petitioners claim the prime minister does not have the authority to reserve spots for external candidates. According to the petitioners, the only way to be included in Likud's Knesset list is by being elected by the party's central committee or by all of its registered voters. They further claimed that if Netanyahu wants to reserve spots for his people, he must first change the party's constitution.
Bitan, one of Netanyahu's closest allies in the last Knesset, could find himself pushed down to the 25th spot; MK Zohar was pushed down from the 26th to the 29th spot; MK Kisch found himself in the 24th spot; and MK Haskel was pushed from the 29th to the 43rd spot, making it extemely unlikely she will return to the Knesset.
MK Zohar said that the reserved spots were interpreted in a way that benefits new candidates and hurts incumbents. "Spot allocation on the list must be done according to the party constitution, which is very clear," he said.
"If a first-time female candidate is elected in one of the spots reserved for geographical districts in a spot higher than 25, then the reserved 25th spot should be freed up and the next reserved spot for women should be 31. Except in this case, lo and behold, everyone in the Likud's management are pushing to have the 25th spot reserved to a first-time female candidate as well, without thinking of the far-reaching consequences," he said.
"This distorted interpretation of the party constitution moves Sharren Haskel to the 43rd spot, essentially leaving her out of the Knesset," Zohar said. "This violates people's democratic right to be elected, and these are people who were elected lawfully."
"What's outrageous is that the constitution is clear as day, and that is why we are fighting for the truth, while others are unfortunately fighting for their own interests. Since this is about the interpretation of the constitution, it's obvious the court will rule in our favor," he said. "We won't give up, and we'll take it all the way to the Supreme Court. It will not end like this."
The petitioners' claims focus on the interpretation of the Likud constitution. Article 12 determines that spots 25, 31, 35 and 40 of the party's national list for the 21st Knesset will be reserved for women, both new candidates and re-elected incumbents. Article 16 determines the party must ensure the representation of at least six women in the top 40 spots on the list, making it clear the reserved spots will automatically be given to women only there are not already six women in the top 40.
In this instance, nine women were elected into the top 40 spots based on their own merits, four of them new candidates. According to the petitioners, the constitution determines the reserved spots can be allocated only to women who haven't been elected to the Knesset in the past. Since there are women on the list who meet these criteria, there is no need to allocate the reserved spots to further women.
The constitution determines a clear system to advance women on the list to ensure the representation of women, but not necessarily to reserve spots for new female candidates. The constitution does make it clear that the reserved spot is only to be allocated to women who have not previously served in the Knesset, but in the same breath the reserved spot is conditioned on less than six women being elected organically to the top 40 spots on the list, and not necessarily to a new female candidate.
Therefore, the petitioners claim, a woman cannot be allocated the 25th spot on the list, as four first-time female candidates have secured spots higher up the list. The same applies to spots 31 and 35, they argue.