Likud Chairman Binyamin Netanyahu was reelected as party head with 73% of the vote. Netanyahu, who has served as Deputy Foreign Minister, Foreign Minister, Finance Minister and Prime Minister of Israel, beat off a passionate challenge by Jewish Leadership faction chairman Moshe Feiglin, who received 23% of the vote. Another challenger, World Likud chairman Danny Danon, garnered 4% of the vote.
Feiglin ran with the support of a homogeneous Orthodox group of 150 or so Likud Jewish Leadership central party members. They campaigned throughout the country with a platform that called for stronger reaction to Arab attacks, while calling for a nation-state that would be grounded in God and traditional Jewish values.
This reporter spent Likud primary election day in Sderot, a small, working-class town comprised of primarily Sephardic Jewish Israelis. They now live on the new civilian front line of Israel, under daily rocket attacks from Gaza, and facing additional problems of economic depression and wanton neglect by the Israeli government. The state refuses to provide appropriate protection for schools, appropriate repairs of bomb shelters and appropriate military responses focused on population centers in Gaza. It is those centers that host the terrorists and rocket launchers terrorizing the population of Sderot and the Western Negev over the past seven years.
With Moshe Feiglin posters plastered throughout Sderot, and with anger against every aspect of the Israeli establishment in every corner of the city, the question posed to Sderot Likud members was simple: Will you support Feiglin, who is indeed calling for a stronger response to the attacks that are plaguing the city? The answer that was almost universally expressed on the lips of Sderot voters was: “Feiglin is not one of us…. Why did he not put people on his factional candidates list from Israel’s development towns, people who are not Orthodox, not Ashkenazi and not middle class?”
Indications are that people from Sephardic working class towns who could have provided a swing vote for a Feiglin victory felt that Feiglin did not reach out to them and did not speak their language. In other words, people of Sderot and similar towns identified Moshe Feiglin as an Israeli WASP – a White Ashkenazi Sabra with Protexia. (In Israeli terminology, one who has “pull” with the establishment is said to have protexia.)
The lesson to be learned from this week’s elections is that any future challenger to Likud party leadership must rid himself from any such Israeli-style WASP image. After all, one of the reasons why Netanyahu lost the 2006 Knesset election was that he lost much of the working class Sephardic vote. This shift occurred after the cutbacks Netanyahu initiated in social services, child allowances, pensions and support for handicapped people during his term as Minister of Finance, 2003-2005. He never regained any enthusiastic backing among this key sector of the Israeli electorate.
There was an opportunity for Feiglin to pick up support with the Sephardic working class – and he did not use it.