The big crunch

Kadima racked with problems after failing to make changes in wake of 2009 elections.

Kadima cartoon 521 (photo credit: AVI KATZ)
Kadima cartoon 521
(photo credit: AVI KATZ)
It doesn’t really matter who wins the Kadima leadership rematch on March 27 between Tzipi Livni and Shaul Mofaz; either way the party that was spawned by the so-called big bang of Israeli politics seems doomed to disappear with barely a whimper. Polls show Kadima down to a half or even a third of its current Knesset strength and Livni, the current incumbent, facing a serious image problem.
Some of the party’s travails are the products of political timing and miscues. When Kadima made its first and successful Knesset run in 2006, the Knesset list was handpicked by Ariel Sharon’s “ranch forum” of confidants. The ranch hands combined leaders from Likud and Labor with new faces such as historian Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson and physicist Prof. Yitzhak Ben-Yisrael.
When Kadima sought to retain power in the 2009 elections, it selected the Knesset list in nationwide primaries with every man for himself, and the promising new players were elbowed out by the professional politicians.
The 2009 elections relegated Kadima to the unexpected role of opposition and, with a Knesset faction top-heavy with former ministers, it was not up to the job. Normally an internal pruning process takes place in a losing party. Veterans resign their seats, facilitating an intake of new Knesset Members hungry to make their mark in a fighting opposition.
However, Kadima convinced itself that it had actually won the election by taking one more seat than Likud, ignoring the rightwing, nationalist Likud-supporting majority that had been created.
Livni and her strategists also underestimated the Netanyahu government’s longevity. For months they kept a low profile, fully expecting to be invited to join the cabinet on Livni’s terms.
Internal renewal and reappraisal in opposition was aborted, further contributing to Kadima’s feeble and sterile performance.
Now Kadima voters purloined from Likud, Labor and even Meretz are going home or giving Yair Lapid – a fresher model of the centrist middle-class party, without Kadima’s mileage and dents – an appraisal.
As southern Israel sits in shelters thanks to Kadima founder Ariel Sharon’s decision to evacuate Gaza and expel its Jewish population, the party’s problems deserve scant sympathy. They are the just wages of politicians who cynically declared political ideology to be passé.
I have no complaints about Mofaz, who following his stint as chief of staff entered Israeli politics the same way NBA star Lebron James became a free agent, seeking the best and most lucrative landing spot. Livni, a bona fide Likud princess, was another matter.
Until she decided to cast her lot with Sharon, she espoused the Likud’s positions through the 2003 elections.
There is nothing inherently wrong with a politician changing his views and in Israel the conversion process is bidirectional.
Our current Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz was once a member of Peace Now; Deputy Prime Minister and former chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon originally supported Oslo.
These political conversions, however, are usually the result of gradual disillusionment or a cataclysmic event, such as Nikita Khrushchev’s 20th Congress speech denouncing Stalin’s crimes, which illuminates the terrain and demolishes the previous belief system. Ya’alon’s epiphany came when he headed Military Intelligence and asked Yasser Arafat about the whereabouts of Yihye (the Engineer) Ayyash – Hamas’s master bomb maker. As he was sitting on incontrovertible proof that Arafat was backing Ayyash and the suicide bombing offensive, Ya’alon was mugged by the reality of Arafat’s mock-innocent response, “Yihye who?”
Sharon and Livni’s overnight conversion to the positions of their erstwhile ideological rivals did not follow either path. The left temporarily lionized Kadima as the party that could promote its agenda while camouflaged as centrists. This unholy symbiosis is over – and so is Kadima.
The writer is also a columnist for the Hebrew weekly Besheva.