Olmert endures tongue-lashing at Kadima event

Poll shows party dropping to 7 seats.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was on his home turf at Thursday's Kadima council meeting at the party's Petah Tikva headquarters, but some of the main players in his party were cheering against him. Several MKs, mayors and Kadima activists questioned the party's future after a Shvakim Panorama poll broadcast on Israel Radio found that if Olmert remained prime minister, Kadima would receive only seven mandates if an election were held now, just three more than billionaire Arkadi Gaydamak's new Social Justice Party. The survey found that if Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni replaced Olmert at the helm, the party would receive 23 seats and could beat the Likud. In her speech to the council, Livni addressed the need to "return the public to Kadima" at "a time of uncertainty when the goals of Kadima are being questioned and when all systems have collapsed." Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said the party had "made mistakes with its immigrant sector" and would try to fix whatever it had done wrong. "The public will judge us not on whether we won votes in the Knesset but by whether we kept our promises," MK Ze'ev Elkin said. "We have a problem when we look at the immigrant sector and when we look at the polls. The difference between what we said and what we have actually done is night and day and the public will judge us for it." Druse MK Majallie Whbee, who is angry that Olmert broke a promise to appoint to the cabinet, complained that Kadima MKs supported a bill that would prevent the Jewish National Fund from selling land to non-Jews. "The time has come for Kadima to do some soul-searching and decide whether it wants minorities in the party or whether it has given up on them," Whbee said. "If we are wanted, we have to be treated equally and no longer be ignored. If Kadima has given up on our sector, we will go on our way and find a new path." Perhaps the strongest criticism came from Ma'alot Mayor Shlomo Buhbut, who informed the council he was considering quitting the party along with other Kadima mayors. He said he was upset that the council met so infrequently and had failed to discuss the state budget, ministerial appointments or diplomatic issues. "Kadima is anti-State of Israel," Bohbut told reporters after his speech. Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On, Vice Premier Haim Ramon and Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik defended Olmert and praised his staying power. Ramon warned Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu and Labor chairman Ehud Barak not to get their hopes up about Kadima falling apart. "The very fact that Kadima has survived shows the need for the party," Ramon said. "Even in times when not everything is going well personally and not all promises we wanted to keep are kept, we should still support the prime minister." But the strongest praise for Olmert came from President Shimon Peres, who was honored at the event. Peres commended Olmert's ability to work under pressure, defended his performance in the Second Lebanon War and compared him favorably to all his predecessors. "I saw all of Israel's prime ministers in action," Peres said. "If he did not have such [strong] nerves, the country would have been in total shock." The council passed a proposal to extend the deadline to join the party and vote in its next primary to March 16, 2008. The decision will give Olmert another eight months to register new party members and try to remain Kadima chairman. The council also discussed a proposal by MK Tzahi Hanegbi to democratize the party by expanding the council and forming a larger party body of 2,000 people.