(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Kadima suffered a blow over the weekend when the party's founding director-general and former MK, Avigdor Yitzhaki, announced that he will be voting for the Likud on February 10.
Yitzhaki's departure follows two other embarrassing defections from Kadima to the Likud: those of Kadima council head Meir Nitzan, and of chairwoman Tzipi Livni's brother, Eli Livni.
Before Kadima was founded, then-prime minister Ariel Sharon asked Yitzhaki, his former director-general in the Prime Minister's Office, to secretly lay the groundwork for the party's formation. Yizhaki served as coalition chairman until a year ago, when he quit the Knesset after a bitter dispute with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
"I won't vote Kadima, because I saw when I worked for Sharon that being prime minister is a tough job that requires experience, especially on economic issues," Yitzhaki said. "Tzipi Livni doesn't have experience and she failed her tests, while Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu has learned from his mistakes."
Yitzhaki singled out Livni's inability to build a coalition when 90 MKs wanted to avoid early elections, and her call for Olmert to quit following the Second Lebanon War while she kept her own job as foreign minister.
"Kadima didn't carry out Sharon's vision," Yitzhaki said. "It didn't implement any of his goals. Netanyahu is the lesser of the evils. I know many people who came to Kadima from Labor and Shinui who are now voting Likud. Netanyahu scares them but they have gotten over it."
But sources in Kadima said they found it strange that Yitzhaki left the party after enthusiastically supporting Livni in the recent Kadima leadership race.
They revealed that Yitzhaki was bitter at Livni for refusing to put him in charge of coalition negotiations when she tried to form a government and for turning down his request to be her campaign manager in the current race.
"Not too long ago, Yitzhaki was praising Livni and calling Bibi 'the garbage dump of Israeli politics,'" a Kadima official said.
Sharon's closest friend for decades, the late journalist Uri Dan, endorsed the Pensioners Party in the last election, because of the close relationship between Sharon and Pensioners head Rafi Eitan. But other than Yitzhaki, there have been no high profile defections of former Sharon confidants.
While Sharon's sons have declined to reveal whether they will vote for the party, an official who spoke with them said they backed Kadima.
"I volunteered to help Kadima in the election because it is so critical," said former Sharon aide Lior Shilat, who currently works as a corporate consultant. "I drafted myself to the campaign and helped devise the party's ideology and platform. Tzipi in her views in many ways continues the Sharon path."
Netanya Kadima activist Baruch Hasan, who heckled Netanyahu on Sharon's behalf at high-profile events when he was still in the Likud, said he remained in Kadima for now but that many party activists might return to their former party soon.
"Right now, people are staying in Kadima, but if Kadima doesn't get elected, half the party will go back to the Likud," Hasan said. "There is no fire in the Kadima activists, because Tzipi is cold. She doesn't connect with people, especially with the activists. But I am still a Kadima man."