Incumbent Netanyahu easily defeats primary challenge and re-energizes base ahead of the general election
Today was newsworthy in Israel because it saw torrential rainfalls that brought with them in one day the average rainfall of the entire month of December and because incumbent PM and head of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu easily defeated the leadership challenge from Likud member of the Knesset Gideon Sa’ar.
The primary election saw 49% of all Likud party members show up to vote in spite of the stormy weather, a slight increase over the last time a primary election was held by the Likud. Of the nearly 60 thousand people that cast a ballot, 72.5% did so for the incumbent Netanyahu and 27.5% for his challenger Gideon Sa’ar.
Netanyahu’s win was expected, but the landslide proportions of it were not and thus the primary challenge itself had most assuredly worked to Netanyahu’s advantage. It reaffirmed his complete hold over the Likud party and gave him a reason to re-energize his base ahead of the March 2nd general election.
But there is more. In the coming days, the Israeli Supreme Court will hear an appeal on whether a member of the Knesset under criminal indictment such as Mr. Netanyahu can be tasked with forming a government. Attorney general Mandelblit, Netanyahu’s nemensis and the very person who has allowed the indictments against him to proceed will issue an opinion on this matter and submit it to the cort ahead of the hearing. Mr. Mandelblit’s legal opinion will be the official legal position of the Israeli government and the court will have to render the final decision.
The fact that nearly 45 thousand Israelis braved the weather on a regular workday (general elections in Israel are national holidays) to express their confidence in Mr. Netanyahu’s leadership may make the idea of making their preferred candidate ineligible for the post of prime minister rather unpalatable for the high court, no matter how far removed from the regular electorate they may think themselves to be.
Netanyahu’s easy defeat of a challenge that was brought against him by a popular politician at a moment when he appeared to be significantly if not mortally wounded serves as a timely reminder to anyone who harbored any doubts as to the political mastery of the longest serving and most successful Israeli prime minister of all time.