The winter session of the Knesset began last week and, in what is surely a sign
of the times, two of its most closely watched stories involve female political
leaders. One is a rising star; the other is struggling to stay alive.
for the struggling politician, being Tzipi Livni, chair of the Kadima Party and
leader of the opposition, can’t be easy. She knows that if elections were held
now, instead of on their technically scheduled date in 2013, Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party would once again emerge in a position to lead a
right-of-center coalition with a comfortable majority. This is quite a comedown
for a woman whose party garnered one more seat than Netanyahu’s in the 2009
elections and who fully anticipated that, with a little help from the Obama
administration, the Netanyahu government would collapse by 2010.
founder, Ariel Sharon, intended it to be pragmatic.
But Livni has
maneuvered it to the Left – ineptly.
For example, she failed to
capitalize on the summer’s economic protest movement. Visiting a Tel Aviv tent
encampment, she told protesters (not incorrectly) that their real goal should be
more rational budget priorities.
She claimed that she would allocate
national spending more equitably than Netanyahu and be less beholden to special
interests. But without electoral system reform, which would require
collaboration among the major parties, no government has much chance of passing
a budget not weighed down by pork-barrel politics. Livni squandered an
opportunity for such reform when she refused to partner with Netanyahu and
Livni’s foreign policy does not stop at the water’s
edge: On a recent visit to London, she told her audience that Netanyahu’s
government bore chief responsibility for Mahmoud Abbas’s absence from the
She billed this visit as the first test of Britain’s
amended universal jurisdiction law – enacted to protect diplomats from the
lawfare being waged by members of the pro- Arab lobby, in collaboration with
anti-Zionist Jews, who threaten to arrest visiting Israeli officials on
contrived “war crimes” charges. But her effort fizzled when it was revealed that
there was no “test” – the Foreign Office had simply granted her special
The legendary Livni indecisiveness – as foreign
minister, she repeatedly hesitated to call for Ehud Olmert’s resignation, though
he was paralyzed by scandal and discredited by his handling of the Second
Lebanon War – was again on display two weeks ago. With Gilad Schalit home and a
fresh spike in Palestinian violence already evident, she revealed to Yediot
that she had opposed the deal. So, why had she kept silent for two
weeks after the Cabinet voted to move forward? Because, she explained lamely,
she didn’t want to “turn this matter into a political issue.” Now she advises
Netanyahu to release 550 Fatah terrorists to bolster Abbas’s popularity on the
Sharon’s bulldozer personality could square Kadima’s
intrinsic ideological contradictions and squash vicious personality conflicts;
Olmert held the party together with Machiavellian maneuvering. Livni just does
not have the right stuff.
Indeed, she’ll be lucky if she can hold on to
the Kadima leadership.
Her most immediate threat comes from Shaul Mofaz,
Kadima’s number two, who will try to oust her in party primaries that will take
place by early 2012. But Mofaz’s lack of popularity and his penchant for
doublespeak (the Schalit deal “sets a dangerous precedent,” but he supports it)
suggest that he will not be able to salvage Kadima’s fortunes.
polls show that Kadima has lost a third of its support to the Labor Party. One
of the reasons for this is the woman whose fortunes are rising as Livni’s are
waning, newly elected Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich.
Yacimovich began her career as an advocacy journalist, focusing on social
welfare issues. She formally entered the political area in 2005 at the behest of
Amir Peretz, then her mentor, now her adversary. In May, 2011, when the abrasive
Ehud Barak quit Labor to establish the breakaway (now moribund) Atzmaut Party,
she got her chance at the leadership and took it. Polls show that Yacimovich
could easily catapult “new” Labor from its current 13 seats to 26, supplanting
Kadima as the official opposition party.
As a writer and politician,
Yacimovich has campaigned against privatization and neo-liberal economics, not on
conventional Marxist grounds but by calling them a betrayal of “Zionist ideals”
and a form of “post-Zionism.”
Under her leadership, Labor will emphasize
domestic issues and seek to harness the diffuse energies unleashed by the
summer’s massive economic protest. She knows she’ll need a long period in
opposition to rehabilitate Labor and develop her own leadership
Yacimovich, who openly supported the Schalit deal and took
Livni to task for sitting out the debate, is dovish on security issues. But,
unlike Livni, she has not obsessively berated the government for its handling of
the Palestinian front. If anything, Yacimovich takes flack from the hard-core
Left for being uncomfortable with liberal universalism.
the hard-liners by refusing to demonize the settlement enterprise.
certainly do not see the settlement project as a sin and a crime,” she told
. “In its time it was a completely consensual move. And it was the Labor
Party that founded the settlement enterprise in the territories. That is a fact.
A historical fact.”
Nor has Yacimovich engaged in gratuitous
In fact, she is easily the Right’s favorite woman on the
Livni, after moving Kadima to the Left, has discovered that in any
“Left-Left” contest, the more authentic Yacimovich comes out ahead – except for
those left-wingers who value principle more highly than influence and who will
likely be drawn to Zehava Gal-On, effectively the new leader of the Meretz
Of course, Netanyahu could yet falter politically. If, for
instance, the Schalit deal, still to be concluded, realizes its critics’ worst
nightmares. Nevertheless, any real challenge to his leadership will probably
come from security hawks like Lieberman or Likud’s Moshe Ya’alon, not from any
of the ladies – or gentlemen – on the Left.The writer is a former
Jerusalem Post editorial page editor, and is now contributing editor to Jewish
Ideas Daily. This article was first published by Jewish Ideas Daily and is
reprinted with permission.