Knesset members from across the political spectrum focused their attention this
week on the rocket fire from Gaza, the IDF’s response, and the possibility of a
clash with Iran.
But behind the scenes, MKs were also talking about
another battle brewing: The Kadima leadership race that is quietly approaching
on March 27.
MKs in Likud are especially intrigued by the race between
opposition leader Tzipi Livni and Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee
chairman Shaul Mofaz, which could determine Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s
main competition in the next election.
Every Monday, Netanyahu comes at
least half an hour late to the Likud’s weekly faction meeting. And every week,
ministers, MKs and reporters come on time, just in case the prime minister
suddenly becomes punctual.
During that dead time this week, the
politicians and press debated whom would be better for the Likud: Tzipi or Shaul
– with strong arguments on both sides.
Obviously, the Likud’s opinion
does not matter much. It will be Kadima’s 95,000 members who decide the
But even after 6,400 Likud members were expelled from Kadima’s
membership rolls, there are still thought to be thousands of closeted Likudniks
who have stayed in Kadima in order to help Likud. Known as “mischief voting,”
this phenomenon has occurred in America’s Republican primaries in which
Democrats voted for conservative candidates in order to help US President Barack
Multiple Likud ministers, MKs, and officials said Kadima members
have been asking them whether they should be voting for Mofaz or Livni if they
want to help Netanyahu.
Some avoided the question by downplaying the
chance of either candidate to pose a serious threat to Netanyahu in the next
But others were less cautious.
could decide who would head Kadima, there is no doubt that they would pick
Livni,” an official close to Netanyahu said. “He can cause real harm to
Netanyahu and she can’t anymore.”
The official said that just like former
Shas leader Arye Deri, Mofaz has the ability to take votes away from the
Center-Right bloc and give them to the Center-Left. Mofaz, who was born in Iran
and raised poor in Eilat, could persuade Sephardi voters in development towns
and inner cities to switch over to Kadima.
This would especially be true
if socioeconomic issues, as expected, play a central role in the next general
election. Livni, who is perceived as elitist and whose father was a Knesset
member, does not have that card to play.
The official expressed concern
that Mofaz could still build himself up as a leader in a way that Livni had a
chance to, but failed. He said he was impressed by the way Mofaz used his
Knesset committee and diplomatic plan to add to his credentials.
Livni, we asked in our campaign what would happen if she got the proverbial 3
a.m. phone call, but we can’t do that with a former IDF chief of general staff
and defense minister who has gotten those calls hundreds of times,” the official
MK Danny Danon, who is among the Likud politicians who have been
asked how to vote by Kadima members, said “Mofaz is more problematic for us
because Tzipi is a dead horse.
She can’t take votes away from Likud and
the public is disappointed with her, but Mofaz can build an agenda.”
Likud minister said Livni, Lapid, new Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich and new
Meretz head Zehava Gal-On would be “a four-headed hydra on the Left, with four
parties competing for the same votes, but Mofaz is irrelevant for such
Other Likud MKs gave a different reason why they want Livni to
win the election. They don’t want to see Mofaz have the pleasure of toppling
“We want Tzipi because we want to be the ones who finally
bring her down,” said Deputy Negev and Galilee Development Minister Ayoub
“Both candidates have their minuses and not many pluses, and no
matter who wins, Kadima will break up and Likud will gain.”
favor of Mofaz winning the Kadima race among Likud politicians and officials
were equally strong. They said that due to the animosity between the prime
minister and Livni, only Mofaz could be a partner in a coalition Netanyahu could
form after the next general election.
“There is no soldier who will be
more loyal to Netanyahu in the next government than Mofaz,” a Likud official
A Likud minister took that argument one step further and predicted
that under Mofaz, Kadima could even be absorbed back into the
“After the general election, if Mofaz has won only eight or nine
seats, Kadima would become easy prey for Likud,” the minister
“Mofaz could go back to being transportation minister, and his
constituency of former Likudniks could come home.”
Put in a very
different way, another official said it was important that Mofaz beat Livni
because her refusal to bring Kadima into a coalition with Netanyahu made it
harder for the prime minister to advance the peace process. The official said he
wanted Livni out of the way because she was “an obstacle to peace.”
Premier Moshe Ya’alon downplayed the threat that Mofaz poses to Netanyahu. He
mocked Mofaz for abruptly quitting the Likud leadership race in December 2005
and jumping ship to Kadima.
“The notion that Mofaz takes votes away from
Likud is a myth,” Ya’alon said. “What Likud voter is going to switch over to
Kadima for Mofaz who said ‘you don’t leave your political home,’ and then left?”
Asked whether the public would not be more likely to vote for a party headed by
a former IDF chief of general staff, he referred to himself, stating: “What,
isn’t there a former chief of staff in Likud?” Other Likud officials said it was
wrong to underestimate Livni’s ability to rebound and resurrect herself
politically. They noted that in the last general election, Kadima got more votes
than Likud, and under certain circumstances, Livni could bring about the same
result the next time Israelis go to the polls.
But most Likud ministers
and MKs said they did not expect any potential Kadima leader to threaten the
Likud’s hegemony. They expressed confidence that current polls predicting the
Likud at least doubling Kadima’s votes would not change.
“When they were
a large party, who headed Kadima was more significant,” a Likud minister
“Now it looks like they will be the fourth-largest party, at best.
With a rotting corpse, vultures take away the flesh without paying much
attention to the head.”