The Kadima Party held its inaugural event at the Jerusalem International Convention Center on Tuesday without its founder, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and without the hype and pyrotechnics that have become an integral part of Likud and Labor's rallies.
Sharon's sons Omri and Gilad watched the event on television from Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem's Ein Kerem neighborhood where Sharon is still hospitalized in critical but stable condition. But Sharon's associates said that had the prime minister not suffered his stroke, the event would still have been modest and subdued.
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"We didn't want balloons or music and we didn't bring in the cheerleaders," Sharon adviser Reuven Adler said. "We wanted everything to be low-key to demonstrate that Kadima will be a different kind of party."
The event started with a broadcast on large screens of Sharon's November speech introducing the party. Kadima director-general Avigdor Yitzhaki announced the names of the party's candidates, backward from 50 to the tune of the song "You and I will change the world."
One by one, the candidates ascended a large stage that was erected in a small room at the convention center packed with the candidates' family members. The event featured a speech from Acting Prime Minister and Kadima Chairman Ehud Olmert, a commercial about the party's name, the slogan "Kadima (forward) Israel" and the party's new jingle that has one word: Kadima.
Likud campaign chairman Gideon Sa'ar complained that the jingle sounded too much like the national anthem, Hatikva, and called it scandalous. But Kadima officials said it came from a similar tune from the Czech composer Smetana.
"History has proven that when Israel united behind a responsible leadership we knew how to overcome every obstacle," Olmert said. "Such a strong leadership can be found only on the Kadima list. Together we will work to defend Israel and improve its quality of life."
Olmert said that the party's two central goals would be defining Israel's border to ensure a clear Jewish majority and easing the social gap between rich and poor.
"Kadima is the expression of the Israeli voice that wants peace and quiet, but always puts the security of Israel and its people ahead of everything else," Olmert said. "I am especially proud of the new faces from all walks of society who weren't in politics before, haven't been tainted by the stain that mars party politics, and who saw a glimmer of hope in Kadima that awakened in them an enthusiasm and a will to be part of a clean, new, responsible and refreshing party."
Former prime minister and Kadima candidate Shimon Peres told The Jerusalem Post
after the event that he felt different than when he joined Labor's Knesset slate for the first time in 1959, but that "life is built on mutations not repetition."
"For me the formation of Kadima is a big personal victory," Peres said. "The extreme right has gone to a centrist party that can make decisions and will form a Palestinian state. It's a respectful list of young and old, who have a common bond based on the future, not the past."
Former Hebrew University rector Menachem Ben-Sasson, who at number 20 is one of the highest placed newcomers on the list, said that it felt wonderful to be part of a group that he believes would change the face of Israeli society.
"This is the first time that there is a critical mass of quality people who represent everything that is good in the country and gave up their livelihoods to join together for the betterment of the state of Israel."
Former Labor MK Rafi Ellul joined the list at the last minute, replacing Erez Navon in the 47th slot. Union of Local Authorities in Israel chairman Adi Eldar announced that he was leaving Labor for Kadima but would not be on the list.
Labor chairman Amir Peretz called the Kadima list "an incidental group of strangers with no common ideology or principles, who have come together out of a common desire to sit in the Knesset."
The list included 11 women, six generals, seven immigrants from the former Soviet Union, three religious people, three settlers, 11 Sephardim, five academics and two American-educated candidates: Yochanan Plassner of Harvard University and Dan Ben-David of the University of Chicago.
The top 50 names on the list are Olmert, Peres, Tzipi Livni, Meir Sheetrit, Avi Dichter, Marina Solodkin, Haim Ramon, Shaul Mofaz, Tzahi Hanegbi, Avraham Hirchson, Uriel Reichman, Gideon Ezra, Roni Bar-On, Dalia Itzik, Ze'ev Boim, Ya'acov Edri, Ze'ev Elkin, Majallie Whbee, Ruhama Avraham, Ben-Sasson, Shlomo Brazanich, Eli Aflalo, David Tal, Avigdor Yitzhaki, Ronit Tirosh, Michael Nudelman, Otniel Shneller, Amira Dotan, Yoel Hason, Shai Hermesh, Yitzhak Ben-Yisrael, Plassner, Shlomo Mula, Ben-David, Rachel Adato-Levy, Rina Goldberg, Lior Carmel, Liat Rabner, Shai Avital, Berkovich, Barzilai, Tamir, Gravetz, Michaeli, Karampa, Riffman, Rafi Ellu, Uri Sheetrit, Itzik Haddad and Amir Halevy.