Kadima party's rank and file gear up

Registered Kadima party member Maxim Elgrably may be choosing the country's next prime minister.

kadima 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
kadima 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
As a registered Kadima party member, Netanya businessman and self-described political organizer Maxim Elgrably may be choosing the country's next prime minister. One of the front-runners in the party's upcoming primary race, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, spoke of Kadima contractors like Elgrably, saying in an interview in Washington on Thursday that they have been given the "grave responsibility of choosing Israel's next prime minister." Party heavyweights like Elgrably have been flexing their political muscle and signing up hefty numbers of constituents as members, to vote for the candidate they've decided to endorse ahead of the Kadima primary, scheduled for September 17. The party's membership drive ended on Thursday. "I'm going with Mofaz and at least 80 percent of my people are going with Mofaz," Elgrably said by phone on Thursday. "I think he has the best chance to win." Elgrably, who described his people as "men of the field," or blue-collar workers, said he had persuaded thousands of them to sign up as Kadima members, and made it clear that he wanted them to support Mofaz as well. "I have people in Beit She'an, Even Yehuda and of course here in Netanya," he said. "Livni and Mofaz are very close, maybe a one-point difference in the polls. And while they're both good candidates, I think Mofaz will be a better leader." To the south in Rishon Lezion, MK Shlomo Molla said he also had a few thousand people behind him, and he was backing Livni. "Exact numbers aren't relevant," Molla said of the Kadima members he has on his side. "What is relevant is finding the best person to lead the country and to give hope back to the people of this country. I believe that person is Tzipi Livni and everyone I've signed up is going with her." Molla, who was born in Ethiopia and immigrated to Israel as part of Operation Moses in 1984, has ties to the foreign minister dating back to his position as head of the Jewish Agency's Ethiopian Division - a post he held from 1999-2005. In 2003, Livni was appointed Immigrant Absorption Minister, and she worked in close coordination with Molla. But he said he wasn't taking sides based on personal acquaintance. "All of the Kadima leadership is good for the country," he continued. "The question is who is better." Molla cited his disagreement with Mofaz's economic plans as one of the reasons he had decided to go with Livni, and also rebuffed the notion that he was working on her behalf within the Ethiopian community alone. "The Ethiopian community cannot only worry about themselves," Molla said. "While Livni has done much for the Ethiopian community, this is an election for Kadima and for the State of Israel, and I want to see the best leader elected." Rishon Lezion Mayor Meir Nitzan disagreed. "I'm supporting Mofaz," Nitzan said on Thursday. "He has the military and security experience that is necessary to lead the State of Israel, especially when you take into account the Iranian threat and the other threats around us." Nitzan said he was trying to influence party members close to him - over 5,600 of them - to reach the same conclusion. "The race between Livni and Mofaz is basically tied right now," he said. "And I believe Mofaz will be able to hold a coalition together better than Livni. His chances are much better." After all, Nitzan explained, if Kadima's government coalition crumbles, it would force an early election in which Likud would be expected to triumph. But back up north, MK Majallie Whbee was working the Druse villages for Livni. "The party can only remain in power with Livni," said Nir Mendel, Whbee's spokesman. "The minister believes in her and her ability to take the party and the country forward. Therefore, he is going throughout the Druse communities in the North today, and trying to garner support." Mendel said Whbee had gained between 7,000 and 8,000 Druse party members who were all pledging to support Livni. "It is reasonable to say that because Whbee is endorsing Livni, the majority of the Druse community will endorse her as well," Mendel said. Across the country in Ashdod, Marina Solodkin, a Kadima MK who works with the Russian community, said she had registered between 15,000 and 16,000 members in past months, and they were all going for Mofaz. "There was a mandate within the Russian community that supported Olmert in the beginning," Solodkin said. "But that support has changed drastically, and while the majority of Russians still support Kadima, they no longer support Olmert." Solodkin held the press partially responsible for dealing Olmert a "fatal blow," but said that given the investigations and allegations surrounding the embattled prime minister, he had lost favor among Russian speakers. "Livni could be a good replacement," Solodkin said. "But I think that Mofaz will be better." Even with the Kadima membership drive over, and with thousands of newly registered members, the outcome of September's primary remains anyone's guess. "You have to remember that this is not a normal primary," said the unnamed Kadima member who worked on the membership drive for more than nine months. "This is Kadima's first primary ever, and whoever wins it is going to be the prime minister."