Labor’s Simhon and Kadima’s Aflalo win KKL leadership

Zionist Congress move could probe heavy coalition blow for Netanyahu.

Shalom Simhon top1 (photo credit: KKL)
Shalom Simhon top1
(photo credit: KKL)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu suffered two blows at Thursday’s Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, when Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon was elected chairman of the Jewish National Fund/Keren Kayemet Le’Israel and when Kadima MK Eli Aflalo was chosen as his co-chairman, Kadima faction chair Dalia Itzik said.
Simhon is seen as the right-hand man and sole political ally of Labor chairman Ehud Barak, who is the pro-peace face of Netanyahu in the world and the man he is counting on to deal with the Iranian threat. A Likud minister revealed that when Netanyahu first heard he might lose Simhon to the JNF, he had protested.
“Bibi was upset because he realized that Simhon is a stabilizing factor, but they met one-on-one, and Simhon convinced him to let him go,” the minister said.
Current KKL/JNF chairman Effi Stenzler intends to continue his legal efforts to hold on to his post. Simhon still has to be approved by the institutions of the KKL/JNF that were loyal to Stenzler. Simhon was elected by the Meretz, Reform, and World Labor representatives in the joint Labor/Meretz/Reform faction of the Zionist Congress, while Israeli Labor delegates boycotted the vote.
Barring a successful legal challenge against him, Simhon will be replaced in the Knesset by former Druse MK Shakib Shanan, who could join rebel MKs Amir Peretz, Eitan Cabel, Daniel Ben-Simon, and Ghaleb Majadle in breaking off from Labor. But a Likud minister questioned what the five had in common and whether they could leave without a leader.
“When there is no leader to lead the gang, there is no gang,” a Likud minister said.
Even if part of Labor would not split off, if Shanan replaces Simhon, there will now be a thin 7-6 majority among the 13 Labor MKs in favor of staying in the coalition. Shelly Yacimovich, for instance, opposes splitting Labor but wants to leave the coalition and will pressure ministers Isaac Herzog and Avishay Braverman to quit.
“The countdown to Labor leaving the coalition began today,” a senior Likud official close to Netanyahu said with dismay.
Aflalo was one of six Kadima MKs who had agreed to break off from theparty several months ago. One more was needed to legally split theparty, but this will be harder now that Aflalo will be replaced in theKnesset by dovish, Georgian-born journalist Nino Abesadze.
A Likud minister involved in efforts to break up Kadima reacted withdismay to Aflalo’s departure, while another Likud minister said thechances of breaking up Kadima were already slim. Kadima officials saidgiving the post to Aflalo was a smart move on the part of their party’sleader, Tzipi Livni.
“This Zionist Congress was a double blow to Bibi,” Itzik said. “Thisgovernment is crumbling a lot faster than we thought, and I don’t thinkit can make it through next winter. We see it in the Knesset and in thepublic. Our situation in the world is a catastrophe, and Labor won’t beable to stay much longer with no diplomatic plan.”
But coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin said, “The coalition has survivedcrises in the past, so I am sure it can make it through whateverchallenges there will be due to the absence of Shalom Simhon.”