TEL AVIV – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Likud’s top 40 Knesset candidates — all of whom capitulated — to sign a pledge promising not to oust him after upcoming elections.
The move comes a day after MK Avigdor Liberman said he would pursue a coalition with a different Likud lawmaker as premier if Netanyahu rejected Liberman’s idea of a unity government between Likud, his own Yisrael Beitenu party and the other main challenger, Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party.
Liberman said Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein was the only Likud candidate worthy of the premiership.
“We, the undersigned, candidates for Likud for the 22nd Knesset, emphasize that we will not be dictated to by any other party. Regardless of the election results, prime minister and Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu is the only Likud candidate for prime minister — and there will be no other candidate,” the pledge stated.
Netanyahu later tweeted, “Thanks to Likud members for their unequivocal support of me. Likud is more united than ever.”
Likud MK David Bitan was behind the move, warning Likud members they would be publicly shamed if they refused to sign the pledge.
He said the pledge letter was “an answer to the libelous spin of Blue and White and Yisrael Beitenu.”
However, according to Ynet, which first broke the story, some Likud members have slammed the move as “dictatorial.”
According to Channel 12, an unnamed senior Likud source said that despite the pledge, if Likud again fails to set up a coalition government as was the case with the April 9 elections, Likud members would be forced to make “make difficult decisions” and oust Netanyahu.
Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid confirmed that his party was in talks with Likud members about replacing Netanyahu.
“Bibi [Netanyahu’s nickname] is right. Behind his back in Likud, everyone is searching for his heir and is talking about it. For now, in whispers. But not for long,” Lapid tweeted.
Likud in response slammed Gantz and Lapid for heading up a “dictatorial party” by never holding primaries.
“Lapid and Gantz, who are constantly working against each other, and Labor, which changes chairmen every two weeks, can only envy Likud members who stand behind the party chairman,” the party said in a statement.
“Their frustration is understandable: The plot to replace Netanyahu after the election finally collapsed today,” the statement added.
The opposition Labor and Democratic Camp parties also slammed the pledge letter.
“Netanyahu’s paranoia has crossed all reasonable lines,” Labor head Amir Peretz tweeted. “Likud went from a national liberal party to a party prostrating to one man.”
Former prime minister and member of the Democratic Camp Ehud Barak said Likud’s founding father Zeev Jabotinsky “is turning in his grave” over the letter.
“You’ve become Netanyahu’s puppets,” Barak tweeted.
Foreign Minister Israel Katz of the Likud party also ruled out the option of Netanyahu splitting the premiership under a rotation deal.
Poking fun at the Likud letter, Labor party activists on Monday erected a placard in central Tel Aviv for passersby to pledge loyalty to human beings.
“The Likud party pledges to Bibi, we pledge to human beings,” the placard read.
United Right leader Ayelet Shaked also followed suit, saying that her party’s candidates would be asked to sign a pledge committing to ten right-wing principles, including upholding the nation-state law that defines Israel as a Jewish state, opposing illegal immigration, opposing the establishment of a Palestinian state and an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, applying Israeli law over the West Bank, reinforcing Jewish identity and upholding an “uncompromising” commitment to the fight against terror.