Tzipi Livni's tragedy of rise and fall in Israeli politics - analysis

Israel went in one direction, while Livni remained so politically stagnant that it looked like she was going in the other.

February 19, 2019 00:44
2 minute read.
Tzipi Livni takes the podium at a press conference announcing her resignation from politics

Tzipi Livni takes the podium at a press conference announcing her resignation from politics, February 18th, 2019. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/ MAARIV)


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When Tzipi Livni shed tears as she announced her retirement from politics at her Tel Aviv press conference on Monday, she was a shadow of her former self: the cool, calm, seemingly emotionless ice-woman who nearly became prime minister.

But over the past decade, Livni fell from her place as the heir-apparent prime minister who received more votes than Benjamin Netanyahu in the 2009 election, to Sunday’s poll that found that only half a percent of Israel’s voters wanted her to remain in the Knesset.

At that peak, when it looked like she would become Israel’s second female prime minister after Golda Meir, Livni started copying US president Barak Obama’s successful 2008 campaign. The T-shirts with a rough, artistic portrait of the leader were similar; she spoke about hope and change; and even the “Obama Girl” who enlivened his campaign was followed up by “Livni Boy.”

“Not Golda, not Condoleezza, not Palin, not Michelle Obama, because no one beats you, Mama,” the Livni Boy sang.

Her slogan in that campaign was one made-up English word: “BELIEVNI.”

But that election did not need to happen. After then-prime minister Ehud Olmert’s resignation in 2008, Livni received a mandate to form a government that could have lasted two years. The reason why she failed is because Netanyahu and smart aides like Ari Harow secretly visited Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and other haredi (ultra-Orthodox) leaders and reached deals on the coalition that would be formed if elections were initiated.

Livni would say it was her political cleanliness that did her in, that she was not willing to pay dirty money under the table unethically. Others would say she lacked the elbows needed to succeed in Israeli politics.

The two main criticisms of Livni over the years have been that she switched parties like socks and dropped her former political allies on a whim for her own personal good.

She has never succeeded in justifying the second allegation. The many impressive MKs who she treated poorly – from Amira Dotan, to Meir Sheetrit to Amram Mitzna – probably did not join Livni in crying about the end of her political career.

But when Livni talks about her move from Likud to Kadima, Hatnua and the Zionist Union, she is correct in saying that she did not change her political views. Her platform remained the same, as she moved from one party to another in hopes of implementing it.

That is the tragedy of Tzipi Livni. Israel went in one direction, while Livni remained so politically stagnant that it looked like she was going in the other. Had history been written differently, she could have had Obama’s success and led Israel for eight years.

Instead, she was left there, all alone, at Tel Aviv’s Beit Sokolow, crying not over what she did in her 20 years in the Knesset, but over what could have been and never will be.

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