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Mofaz Kadima press conference 370.(Photo by: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Israel: No more dodging
Israel will become stronger only through serious debate on its real problems and challenges, and choosing the paths toward solutions. Kadima turned out, in the end, to be a dodge.
An unprecedented phenomenon will take place in January during Israel’s general elections, something that has never happened in the political history of the only Middle Eastern democracy: The largest contemporary party in the Knesset – Kadima – will disappear.

The competition to form a government will be as it was in the past; between the Right and the Left, Likud and Labor. The concept of a popular centrist party in Israeli politics, which was the purpose of Kadima founder Ariel Sharon, has failed.

In 2005, Sharon, the then-popular prime minister, decided to leave Likud, his political home for decades, to form a new party, Kadima. The reason for this move was the opposition within the Likud to Sharon’s 2005 Gaza Disengagement plan.

Dominant Likud MKs such as Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni, together with Labor MKs such as Shimon Peres, joined Sharon to form the new party. The purpose of this party was to be the new voice of the political Center and to create a political platform that would enable Sharon to make major changes in Israeli policy concerning fundamental questions of national security, borders and the country’s relationship with the Palestinians.

As things turned out, a stroke left Sharon unable to lead his newborn party in the general elections in 2006. Nonetheless, Kadima, under the leadership of the much less popular acting prime minister Ehud Olmert, won those elections and became the largest party in the Knesset with 29 seats, almost a quarter of the seats in the Knesset.

Kadima’s victory in the general elections in 2006 was a first. All previous attempts to create a sustainable centrist party in Israel had failed.

Since the foundation of the state, only parties with strong pre-state roots had made it into government.

Kadima was therefore not only the first “new party” but also the first centrist party to win an election.

MOST ATTRIBUTE the failure of Kadima to the bad leadership and policy failures Kadima suffered from in recent years. However, for a deeper understanding of the political phenomenon we have to ask: What was this new, centrist party’s main message? The word “Kadima” itself gives us the answer. The party is about looking and moving forward. Sharon wanted a revolution in Israeli politics.

He suggested a new perspective on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Authority; that it wasn’t about the security of Israel anymore, but rather about saving the Jewish majority in the Jewish state.

This was his incentive for promoting the disengagement from Gaza in 2005 and this was the logic of the disengagement from Judea and Samaria proposed in 2006 by prime minister Olmert.

According to this view, the debate was no longer between the traditional Right and Left in Israel but between the “sane center” and the extremists on both sides.

This revolution in Israeli politics is in fact a rejection of the politics of the past 100 years of Zionism. This is not to say Kadima is an anti-Zionist party, but rather that its spirit contradicts traditional politics.

One of the dominant Kadima members, then-minister Meir Sheetrit, was quoted by Ynet as arguing in a speech after the party’s 2006 victory that, “We disengaged from all kinds of ideologies. Here are sitting former members of the Labor party, former members of the Likud, and members who were in no other parties beforehand. We no longer have bags with the legacy of Ze’ev Jabotinsky or Berl Katznelson on our back. We look only to the future.”

Sharon’s successor, prime minister Olmert, has also expressed this “detachment” from ideology. Facing the growing dissatisfaction of his government, Olmert defined anew the role of Prime Minister of Israel – not an inspirational leader but merely manager of the country. The prime minister, he said, has to be a good manager of the country rather than a leader driven by an “agenda.”

If Kadima represents detachment from traditional Israeli politics, then the end of Kadima must represent the restoration of traditional politics – the will to deal with the fundamentals not through the lens of a new and detached political discourse but rather through the enduring, interconnected questions in philosophy, economics, politics and religion.

The rejection of Kadima’s “new politics” demonstrates a need to acknowledge the fundamental disagreements in Israel regarding the country’s policies on national security, negotiation with the Palestinians, economics and religion and state.

Israel will become stronger only through serious debate on its real problems and challenges, and choosing the paths toward solutions. Kadima turned out, in the end, to be a dodge.

Benjamin Schvarcz is a Hebrew University political science student and a fellow at the Tikva Fund in New York.
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