Kafe Knesset for March 9

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is spending the day at the Kremlin, meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin for the fifth time in a year and a half. For the past week, BB has been talking about this meeting on a daily basis, putting the Syrian front on the top of his agenda. Jerusalem is concerned about Iran boosting its presence in Syria the day after the civil war ends. Ahead of the meeting, Netanyahu said that it is a “very important meeting for Israel’s security. Defeating ISIS terror cannot lead to an increase in Iranian terror, nor its proxies. You do not replace terror with terror.” Accompanying Bibi to Moscow are IDF Intelligence chief Herzi Halevi and Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin of the Likud. Elkin has been Netanyahu’s companion and translator in all of his recent meetings with Putin.

Bennett’s not taking any chances: Education Minister Naftali Bennett may seem like the undisputed leader of Jewish Home (Bayit Yehudi), but he is moving to make sure that it stays that way. The Jewish Home secretariat is voting tonight on setting an early date for the party’s leadership primary, which is expected to be in May. The official party line on the early primary is that they want to be prepared for a possible general election, since Netanyahu is already secure as Likud’s leader (unless something happens with his investigations) after running unopposed last year, and Labor’s primary is set for July. There are growing rumblings of frustration in Jewish Home, and Bennett’s allies did not win every internal election in recent years, but they are not a real threat. The only person who could theoretically take him on – Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked – expressed her unwavering loyalty, recently saying she would like to be prime minister one day, but only after Bennett. All of the party’s other MKs threw their support behind Bennett.

Labor sets a date: The Jewish Home isn’t the only party in election mode. Earlier this week the Labor Party secretariat announced that the leadership primaries will take place at the beginning of July. Isaac Herzog will try to defend his seat against a long list of candidates. The list of candidates is growing longer by the day, slightly resembling the 2016 Republican primary in the US. MKs Amir Peretz and Omer Bar-Lev have announced their run, and Erel Margalit is also aiming for the leadership, though he hasn’t joined the race officially yet. Avi Gabbai, who used to be number two in the centrist Kulanu party and served as environmental protection minister until last May, joined Labor late last year. This week, Gabbai declared that he is running for the top stop in the Labor party. Two more newcomers are in the competition as well: former General Yom-Tov Samia and lawyer and activist Eldad Yaniv. MK Eitan Cabel was also planning to join the competition, but his image has been tarnished in recent weeks, after tapes revealed a deal between him and former party leader Shelly Yachimovich, who is currently running to become the head of the Histadrut labor union. Cabel is now considering his next move and the common assumption is that he will pass this time.

The large number of candidates – which can still rise until May 1 when the list closes – means that there will probably be a second round of voting. This process provides a positive outlook for Herzog, since he has a relatively strong base amongst the 60,000 party members. At the same time, Labor is now debating the idea of conducting open primaries for the leader of the left-center bloc. Tzipi Livni is the main proponent of the move, which, if approved, would also include a merger between her own Hatnuah party and Labor.

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