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(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Likud took a gamble on Thursday when it unveiled a new negative campaign attacking Kadima Leader Tzipi Livni with billboards bearing a picture of her looking tired and overwhelmed alongside the slogan "Out of her league."
The campaign is intended to create the impression that Livni does not have the experience necessary to be prime minister and that she has not proven herself in any of the cabinet positions she has held. But Kadima MKs charged that the slogan was chauvinistic and expressed confidence that it would boomerang.
The Likud's strategists defended the slogan, saying that they tested it on focus groups, and they saw no problem with it. The strategists turned the tables and said that anyone who saw their campaign as referring to Livni's gender was himself chauvinistic.
"The Kadima campaign is intended to obscure who Livni is and disconnect her from Kadima's failures, but we won't let it happen," the Likud's campaign manager, Eli Ayalon, said in a press conference at the party's Tel Aviv headquarters. "We will reveal the real Livni, a mediocre candidate, who is unfit to be prime minister. This job is too much for her to handle. If it would have been a man with similar abilities, we would have gone a lot more to the extreme."
The Likud's strategists were asked whether Livni's gender was "an elephant in the living room" that was obvious but taboo to address, like US president-elect Barack Obama's race in the recent American presidential election. They responded that they had no problem with Livni's gender and did not intend to address it.
Calling Livni a "feel-good candidate," the strategists presented polls that found that the public respected Livni, but its admiration was not backed by any concrete reason relating to her abilities. They expressed confidence that the public would differentiate between liking people and trusting them to run the country.
The polls found that 59 percent of the public considered Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu a strong leader, while just 22 percent said Livni displayed leadership that was stronger. On both security and economic issues, the public preferred Netanyahu over Livni by more than two to one.
The Likud's campaign will also feature recent quotes from Livni's critics in Kadima, such as Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, and even from Livni herself admitting that her own government was a failure.
Kadima faction chairman Yoel Hason responded that "Netanyahu is not big enough of a man for Israel, for Hamas, to tell the truth and to handle pressure." Kadima MK Ronit Tirosh accused Netanyahu of "piggish chauvinism."
"Bibi is unfortunately returning us to the dark days when women weren't considered capable of handling senior positions," said Tourism Minister Ruhama Avraham, who is Netanyahu's former secretary. "We remember that Bibi was there, and he failed big time. I am sure that the women of Israel will vote for Tzipi and enable her to succeed where Bibi failed."