Middle Israel: Campaign tips for Arik

Some suggestions on how to treat your campaign as you should your health.

By
December 23, 2005 06:02
amotz asa el 88

amotz asa el 88. (photo credit: )

 
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Mr. Prime Minister, Middle Israelis were of course relieved to see your hospitalization end as abruptly and happily as it did. Still, during the few hours it took for the alarm bells to be called off, the problems that had anyhow plagued your latest political experiment suddenly came to the fore, and demanded treatment as urgently as your diet does. They involve your new party's aims, candidates, and their intended positions. Here is what you can do to address them. Hold a debate. What you and your colleagues have so far presented as your aims - consolidating Israel's borders and reforming the political system - is nice but insufficient. You and your people must take a week or so in which you will hold what once was common here, but in recent years has become a rarity: an ideological convention. Gathered in a kind of Camp David setting you'll split your forum - ideally some 100 people - into working groups about the conflict, the economy, the political system, and religion-state relations. Certainly, this would leave out some major issues, but it would be manageable and cover most bases. Yes, you'll be able to pre-plan things so that the outcomes of the deliberations will not be excessively unpredictable. That is legitimate, provided that the adopted principles are politically plausible, and indeed shared by your people. Once this process is completed, people will no longer be able to say "no one knows what Kadima stands for." Take stands. Most of the principles you adopt can be expected to be as bland, unimaginative and consensual as "Jerusalem must remain united and indivisible," or "Kadima believes that every child is entitled to first-rate, free education." In the same vein, you can say that just like you have an aim of consolidating the borders, you also have an aim of restoring the consensus that was shattered here in the wake of the 1967 conquests. That new consensus will mix diplomatic pragmatism with military resolve, economic freedom with social compassion, and respect for tradition with liberal convictions. And yet, some positions will have to be sharper than that. Remember the old Center Party, whose fears of provoking anyone made voters yawn just at the sound of its name? You can avoid that by celebrating what you once told me, namely that getting another million Jews here within a decade is Israel's supreme strategic need, and that haredi politicians stand in this goal's way. This is anyhow your view, its electoral price tag is affordable, and its realism will be appreciated. Similarly, you can attack the principle of raising the minimum wage, by explaining to people how this was tested elsewhere with catastrophic results. The voters will appreciate such candor and frugality. Also, you can call for accelerated conversions and back some form of civil marriages. The voters you're after will appreciate this, and those who won't are anyhow not your potential electorate. Such contentious positions will help shape the election's agenda, and at the same time consolidate your grip on the mainstream. Present a full team. Understandably, you are trying to delay as much as possible the prickly task of arranging your Knesset list. Yet you must do that, the morning after your ideological convention adjourns. The candidates need to know where they stand, and the public needs to know what you're preparing for them as a ruling party. Clearly, you've got a problem in this department. I can see you biting your pencil, lips and fingernails, even tearing your hair out, while agonizing over whether, say, Haim Ramon should be in the first or second dozen MKs, before or after Tzahi Hanegbi, above or below Dalia Itzik. Gideon Ezra or Avraham Hirchson. Worse yet, whatever you do will antagonize numerous politicians, and make a mockery of your reformist pretensions. What you should therefore do is change the subject. Yes, you'll say, it's far from ideal to have the party leader select and rank his party's lawmakers, but at least Kadima will not have a party center where jobs are auctioned, bought and sold. All we'll have is a forum for political planning and ideological debate, but the key appointments will, eventually, be made by the voters. If it's up to Kadima, you'll insist, then this is the last election in which lawmakers are not elected directly and personally by the public, and the 17th Knesset will be the last one where cabinet ministers will be allowed to simultaneously serve as lawmakers. Assign key positions. Circumstances being what they have become, you must not only rank your team, but also say early on who is designated for what job. The most urgent choices are, of course, defense, finance, foreign affairs, justice and education. Finance you may do well to reserve for a coalition partner. If it's Bibi, the chest will be in good hands, and if it's Amir Peretz, it will be fun to see him run for cover the moment the markets respond viciously as he tries to expand spending and raise taxes. We have been there already, during Baiga Shochat's first term, when he hiked public-sector pay only to see the deficits balloon and interest rates soar, before he himself was forced to sheepishly change course. Then there is foreign, which you should give Ehud Olmert. The man sees with you eye to eye on all key issues, speaks a fine English, knows the world, and can be expected to be respected abroad even more than Silvan Shalom was. Interior you should assign to Meir Sheetrit, one of the best mayors we have ever had, and a diehard reformer who may use that position to execute what able theoreticians like Uriel Reichman will propose. Justice can be handed to Roni Bar-On, whose performance as Knesset committee chairman was impressive, and whose credentials as a lawyer are indisputable. Education you have already promised, prudently, to Reichman, though this too may conceivably end up with a coalition partner, hopefully someone as savvy as Avishay Braverman. You must be wondering about defense. Don't hesitate; assign it to Tzipi Livni. The job will be in good hands and the public will love such a change. I know you don't like hearing this, but our best defense ministers were non-generals, from Peres and Arens to Begin and Eshkol. As for Shaul Mofaz, besides the fact that he blew it politically, he has fundamentally misunderstood this position, choosing to play the military's representative in the civilian system rather than the other way around. Even more nauseating has been his reported expectation to be made education minister. What values will this self-styled Janusz Korczak preach: to lie in the entire country's face the way he did hours before jumping the Likud's sinking ship? To give us this drivel about having suddenly learned that the Likud is populated by "Feiglins"? And to do all that merely for a job? Surely, Arik, the party you went through so much trouble establishing was not meant to tolerate, let alone prize, such base deceit, cowardice and opportunism; yet as long as you don't get down to the business of carrying out much of what has been suggested here - we will have no choice but to suspect it actually was.

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