Likud-Beytenu has established not one team to combat the loss of voters to Naftali Bennett's Habayit Hayehudi party, but two teams. On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed Deputy Minister Gila Gamliel to head a new team — targeting young voters. Together with the existing team that targets national-religious voters (headed by MK Zeev Elkin), these teams have defined Bennett as the enemy, who needs to be cut down to size.
There are those who say that Likud is exaggerating. Why would a ruling party, forecast to win far more seats than all its rivals in the upcoming election, dedicate so many resources to combating a mid-size party, and from the same right-wing bloc, no less?
So far, Bennett has waged a successful campaign. He took an antiquated, irrelevant party that had become synonymous with boring sectorial wheeling and dealing, and within weeks infused it with life and fresh hope and beautiful, young people, even people from Tel Aviv. Bennett wanted to communicate a clear message: He is not in anybody's pocket. He kept his behind-the-scenes personal rivalry with Netanyahu under wraps, complimenting the prime minister here, and jibing him there. So far, this strategy appears to have worked. But last Thursday, everything went wrong.
Ever since the end of the 1970s, the National Religious Party (which was succeeded by Habayit Hayehudi) has been a steadfast ally of Likud. Even if the party did sign coalition agreements with prime ministers from the Left, it always preferred the right-wing candidates. The last thing Bennett planned on when he assumed leadership of the party was a clash with Likud. What exactly is he going to do with the 12 Knesset seats the polls predict he will win if he ends up in the opposition?
Many individuals and groups for whom Netanyahu's continued leadership is financially and politically detrimental have embraced Bennett, despite his affiliation with the Right. The potential damage Bennett could inflict on Likud has prompted these individuals and groups, which wield extensive financial and media power, to boost Bennett's visibility and try to maximize his power, which in turn consistently erodes Likud's power. These individuals and groups are willing to turn a blind eye to the ideological gap between themselves and Bennett, as long as he continues to serve their interests by undermining Likud-Beytenu's power.
Netanyahu looked on from the sidelines and decided that he wasn't going to take it anymore. Unlike previous elections, this time the prime minister is not willing to lose a single Knesset seat. Not to Bennett. Not to Shas. Not to anyone. The Likud response may be exaggerated, but now we have to wait and see if it works.