Political party or employment agency?

It's easy to figure out why so many politicians have flocked to Kadima.

'There is no act of treachery or meanness," Benjamin Disraeli once said, "of which a political party is not capable, for in politics there is no honor." The 19th-century British premier's observation has taken on new resonance in recent weeks, thanks to the creation of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's party, Kadima, and the behavior it has engendered among some of Israel's leading figures. Tossing aside any pretense of principle, a number of prominent Israelis have rushed to join Sharon, sensing an opportunity for personal advancement and power. With polls indicating that the new party is heading for victory in the March 28 election, a motley mix has suddenly emerged, frantically trying to join while there are still a few jobs left to be handed out. Indeed, there is little which would seem to unite this disparate group other than crass ambition. Kadima includes left-wingers such as MKs Haim Ramon and Dalia Itzik, both formerly of the Labor party, as well as MK Michael Nudelman of the right-wing National Union. Fifteen Likud MKs have also joined Sharon's new venture, along with super-dove Shimon Peres. The only glue seeming to hold these disparate personalities together is a lust for power and influence. Take, for example, Professor Uriel Reichman and MK David Tal, both of whom have joined. Reichman is a founding father of the anti-religious Shinui Party, and is considered an advocate of economic privatization and deregulation. Tal, by contrast, is a Haredi who opposes various free market reforms. What, then, has brought these two political, economic and religious opposites together? Certainly not shared principles or beliefs, because they do not seem to have any. The answer, sadly, is little more than a good ol' fashioned hunger for personal political advancement. Reichman was reportedly promised that he would be appointed Education Minister in any future Sharon government in exchange for joining Kadima, while Tal's one-man faction in the Knesset was facing elimination in March's election, thereby threatening to bring his political career to an end. Hence, joining up with Sharon was a convenient way for them to move ahead, even if it meant leaving behind what they had allegedly believed in. The same holds true for two of Kadima's most recent inductees: Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz. On November 9, Peres sought to become Labor's chairman, and its candidate for prime minister, in the party primaries. In other words, he was seeking the right to lead Labor against Kadima in the upcoming elections. But after losing to Amir Peretz, and failing to gain a safe seat on Labor's list of candidates, on November 30 Peres threw his support behind Sharon, the man he was ostensibly seeking to unseat just three weeks previously. Mofaz hardly conducted himself much better, vowing repeatedly to remain in the Likud, which he insisted was his "home." But after a series of polls were published indicating that he had virtually no chance of becoming party chairman, Mofaz quickly jumped ship and joined with Sharon. To be fair, it should be pointed out that politicians often do switch parties, including some of the greatest statesmen of the past century. Winston Churchill, for example, left the Tories in 1904 and joined the Liberals after the Conservatives abandoned free trade and adopted protectionist tariffs, which Churchill adamantly opposed. Then there was Ronald Reagan, who went from being an FDR liberal Democrat in his youth to the founding father of the modern-day conservative revolution in the US. In his autobiography, An American Life, Reagan describes how, in 1960, he finally made the switch after "it just dawned on me that every four years when an election comes along, I go out and support the people who are responsible for the things I'm criticizing." But, with all due respect, Shimon Peres is no Winston Churchill, and Shaul Mofaz is no Ronald Reagan. IN DECIDING to change their party affiliations, Churchill and Reagan were motivated by the power of ideas, while Peres and Mofaz were simply looking for continued employment. In doing so, the latter have sullied not only their own reputations, but that of Israel's political system as a whole. Changing political parties should not be treated like changing one's socks. When political affiliations are treated in such a casual and trivial manner, it only adds to the public's already strong sense of disillusionment with government. For all the talk of Kadima bringing about a realignment in Israel's politics, it is in fact more like an unmasking, revealing for all to see just how shallow and unprincipled so many of our country's leaders are. Right or Left, they seem to care more about their own careers than about the country itself, leaving the public to wonder when true men of leadership will finally emerge. A political party is supposed to be a group of people which rallies around shared values, goals and beliefs in an effort to get candidates elected to office. But when it becomes little more than an employment agency for public figures, which is what Kadima appears to be, then its justification for existence is, at best, dubious. In the world of the Internet, Web site designers like to speak of what they call an "angry fruit salad," which describes a webpage that may be attention-grabbing, but is nonetheless unfit for long-term use because it contains too many distractions. Kadima is Israel's "angry fruit salad" - though flamboyant and full of color, it represents little more than a fly-by-night diversion made up of various incongruent images. Ariel Sharon may have his own valid political reasons for setting up a new framework, but the creation of Kadima has only served to further erode Israel's democratic culture and values. Ironically enough, Kadima in Hebrew means "let's move forward." In fact, it represents a major step backward for the Jewish state and its politics. And for that reason alone, it is worth hoping that when March 28th finally does comes along, the Israeli public will come to its senses, and choose something else from the menu, even if the alternatives aren't all that appealing, either. The writer served as deputy director of communications & policy planning in the Prime Minister's Office from 1996 to 1999.