In the annals of grandiose dismissals, it will go down as one of the grandest.
Not that Avi Gabbay’s political defenestration of Tzipi Livni is as meaningful as, say, Harry Truman’s firing of Douglas MacArthur in 1951, which shocked the US; or governor-general Sir John Robert Kerr’s disposal of prime minister Gough Whitlam in 1975, which shook Australia; or Yitzhak Shamir’s shedding in 1990 of Avraham Sharir, which made a laughingstock of the man who tried to defect from Right to Left.
Gabbay, unlike those national leaders, commands a sinking dinghy, and his victim, unlike theirs, is the mother of all has-beens. Still, the way the 60-year-old Livni was dumped is exceptional, like her 20-year political career which now approaches its unceremonious end.
Truman and Kerr fired with dignity, and Shamir, who did humiliate, fired passively, by omitting Sharir’s name while reading out the names of his new cabinet’s ministers in front of thousands, including his victim.
Gabbay, by contrast, like Al Capone in The Untouchables, swung a baseball bat at his victim’s skull in front of an unsuspecting audience that suddenly included a bleeding head.
Partnership demands friendship, loyalty and keeping agreements, the Zionist Union chairman told a visibly astonished Livni, before axing the Labor Party’s alliance with her.
Despite this cruelty toward her, there was little public sympathy for Livni, not even when she claimed to have received supporting emails “especially from women.”
The cumbersome attempt to change the subject failed. Livni didn’t previously distinguish herself as a feminist crusader, and what she faced was not about gender. It was about the substance of Israeli politics, with which she lost touch already last decade.
BORN TO Eitan and Sarah Livni, respectively the Irgun’s operations officer and one of the warriors he commanded, Tzipi was raised in the milieu of the “warring family,” as the veterans of the anti-Labor, pre-state underground organizations called themselves.
It was natural to proceed from that background to the Betar youth movement, where counselor Tzipi peached Vladimir Jabotinsky’s nationalism and applauded Menachem Begin’s Greater Israel crusades.
The ideological identity into which she was born was further bolstered in her mid-20s, when her father launched an 11-year tenure as a Likud lawmaker. Her brief service those years in the Mossad coincided smoothly with her patriotic upbringing.
Livni’s marriage to businessman Naftali Shpitzer might have cut this thread, since he was raised by Labor supporters. Instead, the husband veered from Left to Right following Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, which he felt unleashed sinister attacks on the Right.
Several weeks earlier, while fasting during Yom Kippur, the couple discussed the Oslo Accords, which Livni, like most others in her original milieu, loathed. Reportedly, that’s when she decided to join politics.
Benefiting from her lineage, she found her way to first-time Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s circle and became his privatization czar.
Having previously failed to reach a high place on the Likud’s Knesset list, in 1999 she did, thus starting the parliamentary career that this week may have reached its end.
Where did she go wrong?
TZIPI LIVNI failed in three spheres: chemistry, physics and sociology.
Chemically, she was cold and unfeeling. This is how she lost Gabbay’s trust, and this is how she alienated a good man like Amram Mitzna, the retired general, mayor and Labor Party chairman, whom she recruited for Hatnua only to betray him when it was time to appoint him a minister.
This may also explain her fateful failure in 2008 to seal a coalition agreement with the ultra-Orthodox parties. With better people skills, she might have reached the 2009 election as prime minister.
Physically, Livni helped assemble and disassemble too many political formations while sailing from the Likud to Kadima, from Kadima to Hatnua, and from there to the Zionist Union, all within one decade.
Yet all this might have been overlooked had she been with it socially.
Curiously, but admirably, a decade after her husband’s journey from Left to Right, Livni journeyed from Right to Left. Having backed Ariel Sharon’s retreat from Gaza, she then helped him split the Likud and form Kadima. Then, as Ehud Olmert’s foreign minister, she went further left, backing his promise to leave the West Bank.
Just when and why exactly she made her ideological U-turn she never fully explained. Still, such ideological transformations have been common in Israeli politics, in both directions, from Moshe Dayan to Yuval Steinitz. Livni’s collapse was therefore not about that, but about her ultimate failure to listen to the public and offer a broad national vision.
As a prime-ministerial contender, Livni was required to display the kind of sensors with which true leaders detect the people’s pain and history’s demands. She couldn’t.
In love with foreign affairs, she kept preaching her land-for-peace conviction with a convert’s zeal, while failing to produce a domestic agenda.
In summer 2011, the well-born Livni was caught completely off guard by the social protest movement that demanded cheaper housing, tuition and food. Though she was the leader of the opposition, the protesters treated her as part of the problem.
Even then, Livni drew no conclusions and continued clinging to her single-issue agenda.
Similarly, after having recruited in 2013 die-hard socialist and former Histadrut leader Amir Peretz, Livni did not explain what ever happened to the Thatcherist capitalism she served as Netanyahu’s privatization czar.
Then, after Labor elected the humbly born Gabbay as its leader, Livni ignored and indeed obstructed his quest to move away from Labor’s Oslo legacy and to refocus it on social issues.
It was this narrow agenda and social aloofness that steadily pushed Livni to the political margins.
There is a lesson in this to the many candidates and parties now splitting, merging and sprouting as the approaching election’s jockeying intensifies: Preach less, listen more, and be humble – or someone humbly born will emerge from the woodwork and humble you.
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