Reporter's Notebook: Metamorphosis of a foreign minister

Surprisingly, Livni is in her element on the campaign trail.

By
September 4, 2008 23:59
3 minute read.
Reporter's Notebook: Metamorphosis of a foreign minister

livni pensive 224 88. (photo credit: AP)

 
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"Exterminate all types of pests," reads the large billboard on the face of a warehouse-like building in Tel Aviv, not far from the Azrieli mall and the Kirya military headquarters. "Expel doves," shouts the sign. "Exterminate rodents, trap snakes." The sign seems to indicate that the building houses the offices of a serious pest exterminator. It also houses the Tel Aviv branch of Kadima. The party, judging by the speeches at a campaign event there Wednesday night for Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, could easily use the exterminator's slogans for its campaign. Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On spoke at the event, as did Kadima MKs Yoel Hasson, Yohanan Plessner and Isaac Ben-Israel, and former MK Avigdor Yitzhaki. The master of ceremonies was former Labor MK Eli Ben-Menahem. And the theme of the evening, in the spirit of the message on the billboard outside, was to get rid of the political pests and snakes and bring to Jerusalem change and a different way of doing things. Warming up the crowd before Livni's speech, Ben-Menachem said that "only with Livni will Kadima win and stay in the government - that is what is important, right?" "That's what's important?" asked a man standing near a side wall. "What about a [political] vision?" Livni tried to provide the party activists with a vision, saying a centrist party was not a default option, but rather a choice, and that it was driven by an ideology that rejected both the nay-saying of the Right, and the reality-avoidance of the Left. The 150-strong crowd were decidedly unenthused when Livni walked into the over-crowded, hot and humid classroom-sized office - mercifully smoke-free - bedecked with posters of the foreign minister's face and signs reading "Only with Tzipi Livni will Kadima win." To the muffled sound of the Kadima election jingle being played, the crowd greeted her with tepid applause. But they were pumped up by the time she left, actually on their feet at the end, clapping rhythmically for the candidate who - Barack Obama-like - promised to clean up the capital; and who - John McCain-like - pledged that for her, and her party, country comes first, then the party, and then, "if there is anything left" - the party members. The Livni who met the party faithful Wednesday night was a far different Livni than the one the country has gotten used to as foreign minister. She seemed a lot less stiff, more direct, freer, less prone to convoluted sentences about diplomacy or political theory that sound erudite during delivery, but later - when one actually sits down and tries to figure out what was said - just don't make sense. Which does not mean that Wednesday's speech was completely void of these rhetorical duds, dubbed by one political reporter as "Livni-isms." For instance, when she finished a riff about the significance of the upcoming primaries for Kadima, she said, "In another two weeks from today we will begin to do together what we committed ourselves to do then, and what we are obligated to do in another two weeks." Huh? But that was the exception. Instead, the Kadima activists in the room were treated to an entirely coherent speech extolling the virtue of being in the center - the party was not there by "coincidence," she said, but rather by design - and included a few zingers aimed at Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, her chief Kadima rival, and Labor Party head Ehud Barak. In a clear reference to Mofaz and his campaign claim that Livni would "divide Jerusalem," the foreign minister said, "If there is one thing Kadima will not do, Kadima will not divide the nation." And in a pointed jab at both Mofaz and Barak, who have questioned her security credentials and asked whether the country really wanted her answering the hot line in a crisis situation at 3 a.m., Livni said there was more to the decision-making process then just choosing the military option. "Good judgment is critical, and looking at all the options is critical," she said, adding that what was expected of leaders was to lift their heads from the military briefing papers and ask the right questions. If the decision to use a military option is made, she stressed, leaders must know how "to ask the right questions to the excellent generals that Israel has, in the place where the generals should be - the IDF." For Livni, this was a touché moment, and for those not accustomed to seeing her on the campaign stump, but rather at press conferences with other foreign ministers, she seemed - unexpectedly - very much in her element.

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