Israel: Netanyahu faces party leadership challenge


Polls have opened across Israel in the ruling Likud Party’s primary vote, in which a veteran lawmaker will try to unseat Benjamin Netanyahu – the prime minister’s first serious internal challenge in more than a decade in power.

Former Minister of Education Gideon Saar, who officially launched his bid to unseat Netanyahu earlier this month, argues that he will be better placed to form a government in national elections in March after Netanyahu failed to do so twice in two repeat elections this year.

Netanyahu is expected to defeat Saar in Thursday’s polls, such a win could strengthen his hand going into the next national vote.

Netanyahu remains popular among Likud members despite the shadow of corruption indictments hanging over him. The Likud, which has only had four leaders since its inception in the 1970s, has stood firmly behind the long-serving leader.

Although Saar is still a decided underdog to the embattled prime minister, he seemed to be gaining traction in the run-up to the Thursday vote among the party faithful and could benefit from stormy weather that may keep turnout low.

If he wins, Saar would become Likud’s candidate for prime minister in the March polls.

“We are imbued with the spirit of victory,” legislator Yoav Kisch, Saar’s campaign manager, told Israeli Army Radio. “This candidacy is good for the party and I believe can also bring the change and the hope for a revolution in the Likud.”

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