The six Kadima rebels run the gamut

The six Kadima rebels ru

By REBECCA ANNA STOIL
December 28, 2009 04:16

 
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As uncertainty swirls around Kadima MKs who reportedly have one foot out of the fiveyear-old party, reports are emerging of back-room deals securing the would-be rebels plum government positions if they jump ship. The six form a demographically varied group of MKs, ranging from old political hacks to first-term parliamentarians, but all six have one element in common - they have apparently determined that they stand to benefit from parting ways with the party under chairwoman Tzipi Livni's leadership. Four years ago, it would have seemed strange to many that Kadima loyalist Eli Aflalo would lead the list as the MK most likely to jump ship in exchange for a key position in the Ministry for the Negev and the Galilee. Discontent - and somewhat lost - as a member of the opposition during the current Knesset, Aflalo served as coalition chairman for the first part of the previous Knesset, but was later replaced by relative newcomer MK Yoel Hasson. At the time, those close to the veteran politician said he was "tired" and hinted that he would lower his political profile. Aflalo was close to prime minister Ehud Olmert, but unlike fellow Olmert crony former finance minister Avraham Hirchson, Aflalo's one corruption scandal ended when he and fellow MK Ruhama Avraham-Balila were cleared of all charges in the so-called Agrexco Affair. One of the high points of Aflalo's political career - and one that cemented his reputation as a Kadima loyalist - came in 2005, when he disregarded doctor's orders and left his hospital bed after serious surgery to go to the Knesset and cast his vote in favor of disengagement. Aflalo never, however, gained stellar reputation as a legislator, and the Afula native is better known for his behindthe-scenes wheeling and dealing, and his ability to speak to constituents in the periphery. At the other end of the legislative spectrum among the Kadima would-be rebels is MK Shai Hermesh. Hermesh, a resident of Kibbutz Kfar Aza, is the only kibbutz resident among the 28 Kadima lawmakers, and was a Labor Party activist for years before joining his then-neighbor Ariel Sharon when Sharon established Kadima. After entering office shortly after the start of the last Knesset, Hermesh quickly built a reputation as a serious legislator, particularly on economic and agricultural affairs. Rumors that Hermesh wants to jump ship to Labor and not to the Likud, and that he would receive the position of deputy agriculture minister, would signify a return to Hermesh's political roots. Hermesh brings with him a rich and varied public service background, as a former treasurer of the Jewish Agency and a recipient of the Movement for Quality Government's award for championing clean politics. Hermesh also spent 15 years as the head of the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council, which consists of the moshavs and kibbutzim along the northern and northwestern Gaza border. Hermesh's appointment to the Ministry of Agriculture would likely elicit a sigh of relief among kibbutz residents, as all of the recent ministers - including the current officeholder, Shalom Simhon (Labor) have represented moshavs. MK Otniel Schneller also represents a dwindling demographic within Kadima, and his departure would see the last of four kippa-wearing Kadima legislators leave the party's Knesset faction. As the only Orthodox Kadima MK in this Knesset, and the only faction member to live in a settlement (Ma'ale Mikhmas), Schneller is a bit of an anachronism within the largely secular party that supports large territorial concessions in the West Bank. Schneller, a former secretary general of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip, also participated in the peace negotiations of the last decade as Israel's pointman on the subjects of transportation coordination and road safety. Schneller was asked by then prime minister Ariel Sharon to lead the Disengagement Authority, but turned down the controversial spot. Instead, Schneller entered the Knesset as a highly active legislator, sitting on 12 committees during his first term in office. One of those panels was the prestigious Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee - and that is precisely the pressure point that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's office allegedly found to push on the former IDF colonel. The offer reportedly on the table from the coalition would be to have Schneller replace Kadima powerhouse MK Tzahi Hanegbi as chairman of the powerful committee. MK Ronit Tirosh has made her mark in the previous two Knessets as a vocal legislator, and is no stranger to verbal brawling in committee - or outside of it. In her previous position as director-general of the Education Ministry under then-education minister and current Sports and Culture Minister Limor Livnat, Tirosh and Livnat were famously in disagreement over key issues, including Livnat's flagship proposal for a reform of the educational system. Preeminent among the Kadima lawmakers most often numbered as supporters of Kadima second-in-command MK Shaul Mofaz, Tirosh is decidedly not part of chairwoman Tzipi Livni's camp, and as such has little to gain within the party unless Mofaz pulls off an internal coup. Since Thursday, Tirosh has been turning her rhetoric force toward openly pushing Kadima to take up Netanyahu's offer of joining the coalition, and has asked to sit on any Kadima negotiating team formed to discuss the proposal. Supposedly, she has good reason to push - Tirosh was reportedly offered a position of minister-without-portfolio in the Foreign Ministry, a post already approved by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. In exchange, the Israel Beiteinu chairman may even gain Tirosh as a new member of his Knesset faction. Kadima freshman MK Aryeh Bibi was described by Kadima's Website as a "key reinforcement player" when he joined the party weeks before the recent elections. The former high-ranking police chief has served as an MK for just over six months, and has managed to make his mark as a tough law-and-order advocate who also led the Knesset push to embrace the Nahariya four- a group of policemen convicted of planning revenge attacks against a mob boss. Bibi, whose son Moshik is a top Kadima lobbyist in the Knesset, has complained that he has not "found himself" in the Kadima faction and reportedly made it clear that he is interested in a short-term "executive position", more in line with his relatively advanced age and extensive command experience. The prime minister offered Bibi a position as deputy transportation minister, and while Bibi reportedly turned down an offer to spend the weekend at Netanyahu's Ceasarea residence, he is deemed likely to take the ministry bait and jump ship. Bringing up the rear of the six in terms of seniority, MK Yulia Shamalov Berkovich would be unique as the only one of the group not to complete even a single Knesset session as a member of Kadima. Shamalov Berkovich entered the Knesset earlier this year following the resignation of MK Haim Ramon, although she has been active in the party since running Kadima's Russian-language campaign in 2006. Fellow Russian-speaking MKs in the party said that she is a relatively isolated figure within the Knesset faction - as a veteran immigrant who made aliya in the '70s, she does not, they said, speak to large slices of the Russianspeaking electorate. Shamalov Berkovich has denied visiting Netanyahu's office at 8:15 a.m. last Monday, the day that the security cabinet was meant to determine the fate of the Gilad Schalit deal, but a number of people confirm that they saw her there. Later that day, and the day after, Shamalov Berkovich was seen eating lunch with Mofaz, but by Wednesday, as rumors swelled that the barelyfreshman MK was about to jump ship, she was conspicuously absent from Knesset proceedings. Despite her brief political experience, Shamalov Berkovich brings with her decades of experience appearing on - and later running - Israel's leading Russian-language television. It was most likely this background that led to Netanyahu's reported offer to place Shamalov Berkovich within his government as a deputy communications minister.

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