by Nissan Ratzlav-Katz
(IsraelNN.com) Elections for the leadership of the Likud party got underway Tuesday morning. Competing for the top spot are former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, founder and leader of the Likud's Manhigut Yehudit (Jewish Leadership) faction, Moshe Feiglin, and World Likud Chairman Danny Danon.
Up to 94,700 party members will be voting from 10:00 am through 11:00 pm at 100 polling stations throughout the country. For the first time, voters will be able to cast their ballot at any Likud polling station anywhere in the country, regardless of the voter's city of residence. By midnight, almost final results should be publicized.
By noon, 7% of eligible voters had cast their ballot, which is more than analysts had expected.
In order to win Tuesday's election, one of the candidates will have to earn the support of at least 40 percent of the voters. Failing that, the two leading candidates will meet again in a second round of voting one week later, on August 21.
In a meeting with reporters last week, Likud officer Gadi Hareli claimed that Tuesday's elections would be the most organized and the cleanest of any held in recent years. "I see it as part of the progress that the Likud is currently involved in," Hareli said.
In last-minute political sniping on Monday, Feiglin charged Netanyahu with lacking respect for Jewish values, while Netanyahu supporters charged that Feiglin was getting support from activists within Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Kadima party.
Moshe Feiglin criticized incumbent Netanyahu for locating his campaign headquarters in the same building as a group that attempts to convert Jews to Christianity. Netanyahu's headquarters is on the building's second floor, while the first floor is used by the Dugit Messianic Information Center. Feiglin said Netanyahu's choice of the building showed his lack of respect for Jewish values, saying that Netanyahu is "completely disconnected from everything Jewish." Feiglin claimed that when he was offered a a campaign contribution from the missionary organization Jews for Jesus, Feiglin rejected it.
Netanyahu belongs in the left-wing Meretz party, Feiglin charged, not in Likud.
Knesset Member Reuven Rivlin (Likud), a Netanyahu supporter, claimed Monday that Kadima activists in Jerusalem are helping Feiglin in the primaries. MK Rivlin did not offer proof for his claims, and similar accusations made by other Likud activists have later been proven inaccurate.
Netanyahu has said that senior members of Kadima would like Feiglin to win the primaries, but he has not accused Feiglin of actually receiving assistance from Kadima.