Livni sets her sights on disgruntled kibbutzniks

Kadima MK: This could be a political earthquake; meeting at Kibbutz Movement's headquarters comes ahead of Labor primaries.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
June 1, 2011 03:55
4 minute read.
Tzipi Livni at a live Q&A session, Sunday.

tzipi livni_311. (photo credit: Idan Gross )

 
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The United Kibbutz Movement headquarters on Rehov da Vinci Street in Tel Aviv has been a center for political activity in Israel for many years.

But the event that took place there on Sunday night was different from all the events held there in the past. The main speaker at the bastion of Labor Party politics was not any of the six candidates for the Labor leadership but Kadima head Tzipi Livni.

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Kadima MK Shai Hermesh, who heads the agricultural sector in Kadima, invited Livni to meet 30 top United Kibbutz Movement activists who had voted for Kadima in the last election but only decided to cross the Rubicon and join the party now.

The timing of the meeting was symbolic, because Labor’s membership drive ends next Tuesday and all the candidates in the party’s September 12 primary are working hard to register as many new members as possible. The kibbutzim were once Labor’s largest sector with 13,000 members and they are now all being wooed by Labor, Kadima, and Barak’s new Independence Party.

Hermesh said Kadima could become the new home for members of the agricultural sector if the party treats it with respect. He said 25,000 kibbutzniks and more than 55,000 from moshavim voted for the party in the last election but those numbers have yet to translate into significant numbers joining the party.

“This could be a political earthquake,” Hermesh said.

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“Kibbutzniks were always Labor’s backbone. They were the activists in the field who made the party work. If they come to us, it makes a huge difference.”

Hermesh complained that despite roughly three mandates that the agricultural sector gave Kadima in the last election, he was the only representative of the party on its Knesset list, and the 24th slot he won in the Kadima primary was on the cusp. He is pushing Livni to reserve slots for the sector on the party’s list in the next election and to commit to appointing him as agriculture minister in the next government.

But to justify that, Hermesh must woo as many new members as possible.

He believes Kadima can attract kibbutzniks because privatization has prevented leaders of kibbutzim from continuing their old tactic of signing up their entire kibbutz for Labor en masse with one check.

Kadima currently has 1,100 members from kibbutzim, according to Hermesh, but that includes 250 of his friends from his own kibbutz, Kfar Aza near the Gaza Strip. Kibbutz members in Kadima joked that they were the opposite of the Arab sector, which has thousands of members in Kadima but barely gives the party any votes.

“The meeting with Livni was important not only because it allowed me to introduce Kibbutz Movement leaders to Tzipi but also because it explained to her the importance of the sector,” Hermesh said.

Israel Radio reporter Yoav Krakovsky, who broke the story about the meeting, said the agricultural sector could be key for Livni to defeat her rival, MK Shaul Mofaz, in the next party leadership race.

They also could be the deciding factor in September’s Labor leadership primary. United Kibbutz Movement secretary-general Ze’ev Shore has endorsed former Labor chairman Amram Mitzna, who was a neighbor of his for 15 years at Kibbutz Ein Gev.

Mitzna’s rival, MK Shelly Yacimovich, was outraged by the endorsement and said that no kibbutznik was asking Shore who to vote for. Shore denied reports that he had already decided to take thousands of kibbutzniks with him to Kadima if Yacimovich or MK Amir Peretz won the Labor race.

But Shore confirmed that he had met with Livni and had a lot of respect for her. He said he had no problem with her holding an event at United Kibbutz Movement headquarters, even if it was an event intended to woo kibbutzniks away from Labor.

“Anyone is allowed to rent a room in the building,” Shore said.

“Kadima only has 700 members from kibbutzim while Labor will have at least 7,000 when the drive ends. I like Tzipi and I am proud to welcome her, but Mitzna is a wonderful candidate who will bring his ethics to the Labor leadership.”

Labor secretary-general Hilik Bar issued a statement saying that “the kibbutz sector was alive and well” and that “Labor will remain the home of the kibbutzniks.”

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