Tzipi Livni’s rise through Israeli politics was as meteoric as her downfall. She
entered the Knesset in 1999 and was already a minister two years later. She ran
six ministries, advancing from minister-without-portfolio to foreign minister in
just five years.
By 2006 she was already second in command of Kadima, the
country’s ruling party, her role in the formation of which she always
exaggerated. A candidate for prime minister only a decade after entering
politics, she helped Kadima get the most votes in the 2009 general
The card she played that helped her advance was that she was
not a politician, that she played by different rules, and that she could stay
above the fray and keep her hands clean.
That strategy helped her
enormously as she rose politically, appealing to Israelis desperate for a clean
alternative to everything that disgusted them about politics. But that same
strategy also upset and alienated many people and helped expedite her political
The many enemies Livni made on her way up the political ladder
did little to soften her fall on the way down.
The following are 10
reasons Livni fell so fast from near the top of the political pyramid to her
nearly 25-point loss to Shaul Mofaz in Tuesday’s Kadima primary:
1) Paucity of
Let’s start with Livni’s own explanation, which she gave in an
Israel Radio interview last Thursday. She was asked whether it was last summer’s
socioeconomic protests that brought down Kadima from running neck-and-neck with
Likud in the polls to barely half the support the ruling party has
Livni responded that actually Kadima had started slipping two months
before. She said the turning point for the party had come on May 20,
That was the day Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US President
Barack Obama faced off at the White House. Obama had delivered a major Middle
East policy address the day before at the State Department, in which he called
for two states based on the 1967 lines and deferred Palestinian concessions on
refugees until Israel made its concessions on territory.
confronted Obama and was seen as defending Israel from a president trying to
coerce the Jewish state into dangerous concessions. Livni said the confrontation
had escalated Netanyahu’s popularity.
What she neglected to say was that
it was not only Netanyahu’s behavior that impacted the polls; it was also her
own. The day before, she had praised Obama’s speech on television and blamed
Netanyahu for the diplomatic stalemate.
In doing so, she followed a track
record of going against Netanyahu even when he articulated the Israeli
consensus. The best example came in September, when Netanyahu delivered a speech
at the United Nations in which he called upon the Palestinians to “talk dughri
Immediately after the speech, a sour-faced Livni slammed him on the highly rated
Channel 2 news magazine Ulpan Shishi
. Her own advisers said after the program
that she had made a big mistake.
2) From modesty to melodrama.
Livni’s top attributes at the beginning of her political career was her modesty.
She was seen as the antidote to top politicians who were known for their
arrogance and hedonism, including prime ministers.
But as time went on,
she became more confident in herself and went overboard in self-promotion. In
her campaign against Mofaz, she went as far as to predict Kadima’s doom if she
did not win the election. Last week, she issued a new slogan: “Without Tzipi
Livni, there is no Kadima.”
Kadima survived the incapacitating stroke of
former prime minister Ariel Sharon, in whose image it was founded, and the
corruption charges against former prime minister Ehud Olmert that contradicted
the party’s raison d’etre of clean politics.
Three days after the
election Livni lost, the party continues to exist.
3) Avoiding the
Livni’s infamous November 25 Yediot Aharonot
interview, in which she
said she could not wait for life after politics, made Kadima activists consider
whether they should grant her wish.
What she meant was that she saw politics as a public service and not as a
profession. But the activists took it as an insult, as if dealing with them on a
daily basis was a chore she loathed.
She made it worse in a Channel 2
interview two weeks ago, in which she said she thought the activists would
appreciate it more if she worked hard in the Knesset than if she called them on
“Shaul kept in touch with the activists more than I
did,” she admitted in the interview.
Indeed, Mofaz managed to work hard
in the Knesset and in politics. He met with key activists regularly,
called them on their birthdays, and persuaded them to support him.
results of the election proved that his strategy worked. An Arab activist in
Kadima named Ahmed Dabah brought Mofaz more votes in his northern town of Deir
El- Assad than Mofaz and Livni combined received in Tel Aviv.
One of the reasons Netanyahu won the last two Likud races by a
landslide is that he knew how to schedule them. He initiated the races when he
was at the peak of his popularity and made sure they would be fast enough to
ensure that his rival Silvan Shalom would not compete.
The decision on
when the Kadima race would be held was entirely in Livni’s hands. Kadima’s
constitution, which was drafted for the persona of Ariel Sharon, made it
virtually impossible to initiate a party primary without the leader’s own
She could have decided to hold the primary immediately after the
2009 general election and ridden on the wave of her “winning the election.”
Instead, she stalled for as long as she could, and by the time she couldn’t say
no anymore to pressure for the primary, her popularity had dramatically
5) Unaware of undermining.
Livni lashed out at Mofaz and
former minister Rafi Eitan this week for sabotaging her efforts at forming a
government following Olmert’s September 2008 resignation. She said Eitan
had made a deal with Netanyahu, and Mofaz had pushed Shas to shun
While such revelations were interesting, they were more than three
years too late to matter. And they revealed a lot more about Livni than they did
It was no secret that Mofaz knew how to play the political
game well. Livni incriminated herself when she indicated that she had no idea
that such shenanigans were going on at the time. If the leader of a party is so
oblivious to people undermining her, maybe voting to keep her in the job is not
such a good idea.
6) Disinclination to deal.
Next week was due to be a
very significant week in Livni’s political career. It did not have to be the
week in which she decided to quit politics, as it is looking to be right
It could have been the week in which Livni was sworn in as prime
minister if Netanyahu had had his way and if she had been willing to
During coalition talks between the Likud’s Gideon Sa’ar and
Kadima’s Tzachi Hanegbi, Sa’ar proposed a rotation government in which Netanyahu
would be prime minister for the first two-thirds of the term and Livni the third
third. That third third would have started next week if Livni had
accepted the deal.
7) Not finessing the faction.
Sharon was known
for his knack in making his subordinates feel special. He delegated
authority, and politicians respected him despite deep ideological
Livni demonstrated the opposite when she prevented Mofaz from
presenting his diplomatic plan to Kadima MKs in November 2009 in a meeting that
would be remembered as the “nifla
” (wonderful) faction meeting.
the word Livni used to interrupt Mofaz constantly before the television cameras
in a show that revealed the discord between the two. From then on, Kadima
faction meetings were closed to the press.
But it was not the only
example of Kadima MKs feeling that Livni disrespected them. She was seen as
running the party by herself and not letting them in on
It is no wonder that several MKs negotiated leaving the
party and more than half the faction opposed her in the primary.
Conundrums in coalition-crafting.
When the factions visited President
Shimon Peres after the 2009 election to tell him who they wanted to see form the
next government, all the parties on the Right said Netanyahu. Among the parties
on the Center-Left, only Kadima said Livni.
Livni never managed to build
a coalition among the parties in the Center-Left bloc that she ostensibly led.
The opposition she led in the Knesset was completely ineffective, passing only
one bill, which passed after midnight and was repealed a week later.
Disregarding the demonstrations.
The socioeconomic protests did not
succeed in achieving most of the protesters’ aims, in part because they lacked a
real leader. Who better to lead them than the leader of the opposition and the
largest faction in the Knesset?
Livni said she did not take part in the
demonstrations because their organizers had told her that the presence of
politicians would harm their efforts. But other politicians, like Labor’s Shelly
Yacimovich, managed to build support from the demonstrations without even
visiting the protest tents on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard.
public’s focus on socioeconomic issues revealed how little Livni had to say on
the matter. Unlike Mofaz, an immigrant who was raised poor, she was born
with a silver spoon in her mouth, the daughter of an MK.
are aware that socioeconomic issues will play a central role in the next general
election, and fielding Livni as their leader would leave them
10) From clean to corrupt.
After years of presenting herself
as Mrs. Clean, Livni began associating herself with too many Mr. Dirties.
The two politicians closest to her, Haim Ramon and Hanegbi, are both convicts.
The head of her campaign was former MK Omri Sharon, a convict who, unlike Ramon
and Hanegbi, served jail time.
Kadima’s former treasurer Itzik Haddad
revealed many incidents of wrongdoing by people in the party under Livni’s
leadership. Eventually it stuck to her. She became associated with the
dirty politics she had so desperately tried to eradicate.