Happy birthday, Kadima

The main opposition party is on its way to oblivion because it never cared about ideas.

Tzipi Livni and Salam Fayyad 311 (photo credit: Wikicommons)
Tzipi Livni and Salam Fayyad 311
(photo credit: Wikicommons)
Kadima, until several months ago a viable alternative to Israel’s ruling party, turned six last week, and marked the birthday in typical fashion: with a boxing match.
The specific details, an abortive attempt by the former commanders of the IDF and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) to ambush former Mossad agent Tzipi Livni – are not the point, entertaining though this was. The point is that any other party with such pretensions to lead the country would have used the anniversary to discuss its ideas, to dialogue with the masses, and to stir the elites. Instead, Kadima displayed in broad daylight its lack of an agenda, plan and future.
Kadima was born in sin and raised fatherless. The sin was its founder’s origin as a military adventurist and a godless messianic, a neo-pagan who split Israeli society twice, once by molesting Lebanon and then by settling the West Bank. Had he not abandoned back then the pragmatism on which he was raised, Kadima’s latter-day promise to restore our national unity would not have been necessary in the first place.
Even so, the aging Sharon represented several ideas, and certainly a plan. As Likud’s prime minister he backed his finance minister’s economic conservatism, he stood up to ultra-Orthodoxy, and he built the anti-terror barrier. Sharon believed. Economically, he believed in Thatcherism; religiously, he kept Shas and United Torah Judaism out of his coalition (in 2003) because they obstructed his vision of mass immigration; and territorially, between raising the Fence and leaving Gaza he converted from Greater Israel to Lesser Israel.
In short, while no thinker, Kadima’s founder represented ideas and was prepared to sacrifice for them, and this is before considering the formidable charisma he brought, particularly after his defeat of Hamas on the battlefield. Today’s Kadima offers none of these.
KADIMA’S IRRELEVANCE became glaring over the summer when the social-justice protesters refused to touch the main opposition party even with a 10-foot pole.
The youngsters from the tent camps, while on many other issues misguided, ignorant, and also stupid – had it right on this one. Under Tzipi Livni’s leadership, Kadima had consciously decided to make peace its main issue and all but ignore domestic issues, which to the protesters were all and everything. Livni took Kadima into this dead-end for two reasons: on the diplomatic front, she believed there was a deep difference between her and Netanyahu, and on the economy she knew there was no difference between them at all, a fact she was not prepared to publicly admit.
Middle Israelis, however, realized that Livni and Netanyahu were raised in the same Revisionist milieu and that once at the helm they would prove as flexible as their Arab interlocutors. If Livni didn’t get this from the onset, she should at least have recognized this after Netanyahu publicly accepted the two-state solution.
Alas, rather than use that moment to join the coalition, or at least to tell the Palestinians categorically “Netanyahu moved – now you move” – she joined the international chorus that blamed Netanyahu for the Palestinians’ refusal to negotiate with him. That was both immoral and shortsighted.
The economic front is even more absurd. The fact is that unlike the peace front, where one can say Netanyahu and Livni are at least different in the sense that in the unlikely event that Mahmoud Abbas and Khaled Mashaal produce a viable peace deal Livni will go there happily and Netanyahu grudgingly, on the economy the two are as identical as Lenin and Trotsky.
Kadima has two former finance ministers in the Knesset and two more outside (one in jail, another in court). Of these, three (Olmert, Hirchson and Bar-On) followed Netanyahu and upheld his legacy, and one (Meir Sheetrit) served under Netanyahu as minister of finance in ’99 and as minister without portfolio at the Treasury in ’03. Like Netanyahu, they all believed in and actively promoted fiscal discipline, monetarism, low taxation, privatization and deregulation, and so did Livni herself back when she was the first Netanyahu government’s privatization czar.
Now if one cares for ideas it doesn’t take wisdom, only fairness, to come out under these circumstances and tell the social-justice protesters: “Guys, concerning your idea of breaching the budget-deficit limit – we think it’s stupid, we think it’s dangerous, we reject it, and we fully back the prime minister on this one.” But Kadima doesn’t believe in ideas, and it therefore ducked, hoping no one would notice. And that strategy actually worked, as indeed no one noticed Kadima, and someone else got sucked into the ideational vacuum – Labor, and its new leader Shelly Yacimovich.
Like Sharon in his time, Livni’s unexpected challenger from the Left is controversial, but there is no arguing she is a woman with a cause. As a former journalist, Yacimovich has her ear attached to the street and she wisely concluded that peacein- our-time bravado no longer wins elections here. That is why Labor is returning under her leadership to what it once was – a party with a social agenda, an inversion of Netanyahu’s conservatism, but an emulation of his “economics first” political strategy.
KADIMA’S DEMISE was written on the wall soon after the ‘09 election. Livni’s electionnight demand that “the system” be changed was never explained, let alone translated into a plan, not to mention a bill. Such follow-ups demanded ideas, and ideas she doesn’t do. This is the backdrop against which Kadima – from the outset a strange hybrid of ex-Likud leaders with ex- Labor voters – stands to lose much of its electorate.
Livni is by no means the cause of Kadima’s demise, only its symptom. If anything, she at least understands the domestic arena, which is so much more than can be said of her nemesis Shaul Mofaz, who is clueless on economic issues, and whom she could have knocked out had she challenged him to a social and economic debate back when they faced each other in their party’s inconclusive primaries.
But Livni didn’t challenge her main rival to a debate for the same reason that she didn’t challenge the social protesters, and for the same reason that she never presented a bill for political reform that would provoke the religious parties: she and her party are not united by, have never collectively produced and certainly never jointly fought for an idea.
What they understood from Sharon’s legacy, not to mention Olmert’s, is the power of opportunity, and that is what the advertising executives who inspired their strategies have prodded them to detect, cultivate and exploit. To them, Kadima was a marketing challenge, like furniture, lingerie or deodorant, and Livni, or rather her femininity, and the bracelets, necklaces, hairdo and business suits with which they dressed her – were the bait.
And so, once our votes are counted come the next election our politicians will hopefully recall comedian Fred Allen’s insight, that advertising is 85 percent confusion and 15% commission, because before that, as Middle Israelis make their choices, they will recall the famous advertising slogan “It’s what it’s not that makes it what it is.”