PM wants post-Winograd boost in party membership

Kadima officials had reported problems getting people to join the party while the report's imminent release hovered over the party.

Olmert Herzliya 224.88 (photo credit: GPO)
Olmert Herzliya 224.88
(photo credit: GPO)
The Kadima faction discussed extending the party's membership drive on Monday in a move that could boost Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's chances of getting re-elected chairman of the party. Kadima members will decide who will be the party's leader in an eventual race between Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit and perhaps Public Security Minister Avi Dichter. Olmert's political adviser, Shlomo Yitzhak, reportedly started pushing for extending the drive after the Winograd Report's publication last Wednesday. Coalition chairman Eli Aflalo, who is close to Olmert, raised the issue and expressed support for the move in Monday's faction meeting. Kadima officials had reported problems getting people to join the party while the report's imminent release hovered over the party and threatened its future. But they said that since its release, the number of membership forms downloaded from the Kadima Web site had increased exponentially. When the Kadima council last extended the drive to March 16, the party's leaders promised that the deadline would not be postponed again. But Kadima officials said Tuesday that another extension was necessary now that recent political developments had apparently extended the party's longevity. Kadima currently only has some 30,000 members, much fewer than Likud and Labor, which both have some 100,000. Billionaire Arkadi Gaydamak's Social Justice Party recently boasted it had signed up tens of thousands of members in a bid to become the largest party in Israel in terms of membership. The candidates for the Kadima leadership, as well as MKs and mayors, have been conducting private membership drives whose success would only be revealed when they submit their membership forms on the last day of the drive. Kadima officials predicted that the party membership would more than double when the drive closed. Extending the drive could help Olmert and Livni, neither of whom have taken an active role in seeking new members for the party. The move is liable to hurt the more active Sheetrit and Mofaz, who have reportedly succeeded in drafting thousands of new members. Sheetrit hosted more than 200 Kadima activists at a political event in Ramle on Sunday. Most of the people present were already members, and most of the rest joined the party at the event. Some Kadima politicians have used more creative methods to draft people into the party. MK Yoel Hasson, for instance, is conducting a membership drive over the Facebook social networking Web site. Hasson reported receiving interest from dozens of people via the site. Kadima's former director-general, MK Yohanan Plessner, said that approving a new deadline for the end of the drive would require approval of an absolute majority of the 29-MK Kadima faction and its 180-member council. He said that extending it now could prove difficult so close to the current deadline and to the November municipal elections. Whoever joins Kadima after the deadline would have to wait a 25-month waiting period before he would be allowed to vote in internal party elections and institutions. Efforts are underway to institute a shorter waiting period.