‘Politicians are all the same,” Nikita Khrushchev once said, “they will promise
to build a bridge even where there is no river.”
Listening to new
Opposition Leader Shaul Mofaz you have to admit the Soviet leader had a point.
The retired general’s vow to lead the social protest, as if its energetic
leaders need someone to bridge between them and the public, may have been
forgivable morally, but politically it was laughable. And the new party leader’s
broadsides at ultra- Orthodoxy’s failure to serve “even one day while my own
children serve five years” were clearly sincere, but still left people
suspecting this man has neither the tools nor the intention to bridge between
the draft and its dodgers.
And yet Kadima’s primary election is for now
the year’s main political event. Not because the Knesset’s largest party has
changed leaders – Kadima does that every 18 months on average – but because of
its result’s swiftness. This was one thing few predicted.
Though much is
being said about the way it was achieved, it makes of Mofaz a political force to
reckon with, for the first time since he joined politics a decade
Stocky, ineloquent, cumbersome and politically unoriginal, Mofaz has
yet to demonstrate an ability to do as a politician what he did as a soldier. In
the military, he showed courage already as a sergeant who, while faced with a
terrorist infiltration across the Jordan, split his squadron of several foot
soldiers, assigning some to snipe at the infiltrators while he and another
soldier crawled the other way, stormed the terrorists and killed
That performance got him into officers’ school after having
previously been repeatedly rejected, a turning point later followed by his
leadership roles in the Entebbe raid as Yoni Netanyahu’s deputy and in the war
on Hamas as chief of staff.
Understandably, then, many now suspect that
the underestimated sergeant who rose to lieutenant-general and then defense
minister, may yet emerge as the improbable prime minister he insists he will
Well, don’t hold your breath.
MOFAZ HAS won
Kadima’s primary not because of who he is but because of who his rival was not.
As discussed here last year (“Happy birthday, Kadima,” December 2), Tzipi Livni
was not up to the task assigned her by several advertising executives who
thought this politician’s feminine elegance could substitute for her woeful lack
of ideas, charisma and inspiration.
In this regard, Mofaz brings Kadima
one thing it urgently needs: fighting spirit. Say what you will about this
career soldier, he is battle hungry. And unlike his namesake, the biblical King
Saul, he does not need to be convinced to assume power; he craves it. Alas,
besides fighting spirit Kadima also needs an agenda.
Mofaz of course
knows this, and he also knows that the agenda as Livni saw it – a deal with the
Palestinians as soon as possible – is passé. Having been among the founders of
the West Bank community of Elkana, Mofaz did not undergo Livni’s leftist
conversion to begin with, and he also realizes she made a grand mistake in
failing to prepare for, or at least seriously respond to, the public’s
transition to a social agenda.
While he does not pass for historian Max
Weber’s model of the charismatic leader whom people follow regardless of office,
in his intuitions Mofaz is at least more attentive to the people’s
But that is also where his advantages over Livni end.
will find it difficult to come forth with an economic statement that will sound
either theoretically original or politically genuine. The beauty of Israel’s
emerging political configuration is that next year’s general election will pit
against each other two wellestablished schools of thought whose debate promises
to be serious, deep and sincere.
In the one corner will be the
conservative Binyamin Netanyahu and Yuval Steinitz, whose record now includes,
besides structural reforms, macro-economic growth and monetary stability, also
several social overtures, most notably the extension of compulsory free
education from age three. In the other corner will be Labor’s neo-socialist
Shelly Yacimovich and her shadow finance minister Prof. Avishay
Mofaz is in no position to challenge either of these
Any time he tries to attack Netanyahu’s economics people
will wonder how it is that Mofaz carries with him Meir Sheetrit, who was finance
minister Netanyahu’s righthand man and full partner when they drastically cut
social spending in 2003- 2005.
Mofaz will also fail to reconcile his
hostility to Netanyahu’s economics with the presence on his ticket of Ronnie
Bar-On, who as finance minister during last decade’s global meltdown upheld all
of Netanyahu’s reforms, and maintained the very tight fiscal policy that today’s
social protesters condemn.
Mofaz’s chances of competing with Labor’s
economic team are even worse, because this pair brings to the table Yacimovich’s
impressive record of social legislation, and Braverman’s impeccable credentials
as a World Bank economist and Ben-Gurion University president.
likely be some formations on these two economic alternatives’ flanks, Meretz
from the Left and possibly Yair Lapid on the Right, but there will be no room
for anything coherent to emerge in between them.
KADIMA’S LAST CHANCE to
survive as a potential ruling party is that something will go seriously wrong
for the current government. In the Middle East, this grim prospect can never be
ruled out; a military blunder, an economic downturn, a terror upswing, who
In this regard, Mofaz did right when he made his views on the
Iranian issue plain, saying Israel should insist this is not an exclusively
Israeli problem, but an international one whose treatment should be led by
This statement served as a refreshing reminder that in Kadima
there is a set of rational and experienced people who, if circumstances somehow
land them in that position, can do a reasonable job leading Israel. However, as
things currently stand Kadima is over the hill and chances are it will emerge
from the next election as someone else’s fifth wheel, like the Third Way,
Tzomet, the Center Party, Shinui and the Pensioners Party before it.
so, unlike all previous centrist alternatives, Kadima has already earned its
rightful place in history. The party established by the humbled prophets of
Greater Israel and Land for Peace has ended the futile debate over the future of
With Netanyahu following Ariel Sharon’s example and
adopting the two-state solution, and with Labor’s leader discussing nothing but
economics, Kadima’s emergence has changed the focus of Israel’s political
discourse from foreign to domestic issues. In fact, the debate has proven so
lively and so well-attended that there is no room left in it for Kadima, whether
under this leader or that.The writer is a fellow at the Shalom Hartman