In what Shinui opponents are calling a "death blow" to the movement, party founder Uriel Reichman announced Tuesday he was joining Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's new political party.
Reichman, who plans to step down from his current job as president of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya upon election to the Knesset, indicated he was taking the job in order to serve as education minister in a Sharon-led government.
Given his historic involvement in Shinui, including resuscitating it in the late 1990s by bringing Yosef Lapid into the leadership, Reichman told The Jerusalem Post, "It wasn't a decision that I took easily. But I believe that what is important is to bring about change and I believe that I can contribute to changing society in the Kadima party."
He also acknowledged his "very open" criticism of Shinui in recent months, though he declined to rehash past comments in which he lambasted Lapid's autocratic style and his decision to keep the Shinui list the same in the next elections.
In response, Shinui sources called Reichman "frustrated" by his failure last year to wrest the number two spot on the party list from Avraham Poraz, who enjoyed Lapid's steadfast support.
An official also dismissed Reichman's bolting the party as "meaningless" given his backroom role.
"He's not significant - not to the general public and not in the party," he said.
Lapid, for his part, told Reichman by telephone from London this morning, "I'm very sorry you're leaving, but Shinui will keep on fighting for the principles that you also believed in until this morning."
Shinui critics said, though, that there wouldn't be much more fighting.
They used Reichman's departure as an opportunity to hammer home their own disapproval of the party.
"Reichman's leaving Shinui for Kadima is leaving from one instant party to another. In neither party are they [representatives] elected democratically. It's a death blow to Shinui and Lapid, and it brings closer their political demise," said MK Ran Cohen of Meretz. Shinui, at one point, ran on the same list as Meretz, only to break off again in recent years.
And MK Yosef Paritzky, who was forced out of Shinui after reports that he tried to frame Poraz with the help of a private investigator, declared that "Reichman, by joining Sharon, has signed the burial certificate of Shinui."
Paritzky pointed out that Reichman served as Shinui council president and recruited its top members, including himself.
"He saw the movement was going down the drain and took a decision - which was right," Paritzky said of Reichman's decision to quit Shinui, though he questioned his choice, calling it "a little bit peculiar because I don't see Sharon... fighting for secular rights."
The Kadima party platform doesn't address any of the church-state issues long at the heart of Shinui, including pushing for civil marriage and non-Orthodox conversions.
Reichman, however, said that, "I believe that the attitude of Kadima is one that respects pluralism and the right of everybody to live according to his or her religious convictions."
He emphasized that, "What seems to me the most important issue is that the courageous move of Sharon in establishing the new party and changing the entire political situation in Israel creates a unique opportunity for major developments regarding the Palestinian issue."
Reichman also noted the role he expected to play in implementing the party's commitment to electoral reform by holding open primaries in every party, in which all Israelis would be allowed to vote.
The chairman of the Huka Le'Israel (Israel Constitution) movement, he has long been a supporter of "providing our system the stability and governability that has been lacking."
His time in the US - including three years as a doctoral student at the University of Chicago, getting a JSD - influenced his thinking on these topics.
"I took with me from my education in the US the great belief in individual freedom, open society and free markets," he said.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.
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