Benjamin Netanyahu, the charismatic politician who won the Likud party primary this week, has lost no time in going on the offensive, telling cheering supporters Thursday he hopes to bring down the Labor-led government as soon as possible.
“We would like to bring early elections,” Netanyahu said after results of Wednesday’s election for chairman of the opposition party were announced.
Netanyahu, 43, received 52.5 percent of the vote, double the number garnered by his archrival, former Foreign Minister David Levy. Levy refused to congratulate Netanyahu after the results were announced Thursday afternoon.
Since just 40 percent of the vote was needed to win the primary outright, a runoff vote was unnecessary.
Knesset member Ze’ev “Benny” Begin received 15 percent of the vote, and Moshe Katsav, a former Cabinet minister, came a distant fourth, with 6.5 percent.
More than 150,000 of the party’s registered members cast ballots Wednesday, amounting to a turnout of 68 percent. That is considered high, since this was the first time the party has held a nationwide primary.
The triumph for Netanyahu, who has served as Israeli ambassador to the United Nations as well as deputy foreign minister, followed a campaign full of mudslinging between the top two contenders.
Netanyahu, who was educated in the United States, ran an American-style campaign and appeared at times to be emulating the down-to-earth, people-to-people campaign style of U.S. President Bill Clinton.
Like Clinton, Netanyahu had to grapple with public scrutiny of his private life. But Netanyahu went a step further than Clinton, confessing on national television that he had been conducting an extramarital affair.
‘REAL QUESTIONS’ FOR THE PEOPLE
Netanyahu said Thursday evening that as Likud’s leader, he would try to prevent an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, improve the security situation and bring down the Labor-led government.
“The function of an opposition in a democracy is to make sure the government assumes that (opposition) role as soon as possible,” he said.
“We think there are real questions to put before the people: the questions of security, the questions of the future borders of the State of Israel, the questions of the way we run the economy. All these questions should be brought to the voters as soon as possible and that will be my goal,” said Netanyahu.
Police Inspector General Ya’acov Terner, meanwhile, defended himself against charges he deliberately delayed the results of a police investigation into the “Bibigate” scandal until after the primaries because he felt intimidated by Netanyahu.
The police had pledged to publicize the outcome of a probe into Netanyahu’s allegation he was blackmailed over an extramarital affair by a “Likud higher-up.” Netanyahu never named the blackmailer but implied Levy was behind the plot.
Levy insisted that results of the police investigation would show Netanyahu had lied and would fatally damage his credibility. Levy’s allies said Terner’s delay in releasing the results was a deliberate effort to protect Netanyahu.
But the police chief said the inquiry had been prolonged because new information had surfaced.
Netanyahu refused comment on Levy’s pledge before and after the primary that he would not work with Netanyahu after the “slander” that he had perpetrated.
The newly elected party chairman avoided questions about whether he would apologize to Levy for the innuendo directed against him.
“I think the important thing is to put the divisions of the past behind us,” he said. “We have great challenges ahead, and I hope that all my colleagues will join me.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.