Analysis: Kadima's war on electoral reforms falls flat

If the media don't pay attention, what's an opposition to do?

Philosophers can ask: If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? But politicians must ask: If a tree falls in the forest, and they call a press conference to tell the world about it, but it doesn't make the news, did it make a sound? That's what happened to Kadima with its battle against the coalition's electoral reforms. Their press conference on Tuesday did not make Israel's top rated nightly news broadcast on Channel 2. The largest circulation newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, had no room for Kadima's battle against the coalition but had plenty of space for a report about the unexpected pregnancy of a wallaby from its dead mate. This newspaper ran a story, but only on page 19. Kadima's battle did merit TV news coverage on Wednesday, but only because the party's boycott of the Knesset plenum allowed the 2009-2010 state budget to pass its first reading by a vote of 61-0. The reason why the amount of media coverage is significant is because the media are the opposition's only real weapon. Parties stay in the opposition to find favor with the public and present themselves as an alternative when governments inevitably fail. So when the opposition kicks and screams and no one finds out about it, the battle seems to have been a waste of time. Such is the fate of the opposition in a system of government that empowers the majority and leaves the minority almost - but not completely - powerless. Kadima has a serious case in its fight against the Likud's electoral reform package, especially the so-called "Mofaz bill" that would allow seven MKs to break off from Kadima instead of the current minimum of 10 MKs, constituting a third of the faction. Normally such personally targeted legislation is passed with a caveat that it would only take effect in the next Knesset, but Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is insisting that the law take effect immediately. The most notable exception to that rule that the Likud cites is the so-called "Bibi-bill," which allowed Netanyahu to run for prime minister in 2000 even though he was not a member of Knesset. The bill passed and Netanyahu was permitted to run immediately, even though he eventually decided against it. But to pass that bill, the opposition worked together with the coalition. Here, the coalition and opposition are barely speaking to each other, due to a series of personal battles that have nothing to do with the legislation. Coalition chairman Ze'ev Elkin of the Likud used to be in Kadima and left on bad terms. His counterpart, opposition whip Dalia Itzik, blames her successor as Knesset speaker, Reuven Rivlin, for leaking information about renovations to her apartment that she made as speaker, which led to politically damaging investigations against her. And Itzik and Rivlin are expected to eventually run against each other for president. In that atmosphere, it is hard to forge any large-scale cooperation between the coalition and opposition. So what can the opposition do when the coalition tries to pass changes that it considers illegitimate? They can either work hard to make political deals with individual coalition MKs and factions to prevent such legislation from passing, as the opposition has done in many Knessets in the past. Or they can do what Kadima did and put on a show with boycotts and walkouts - in the hope that someone is watching.