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Israeli Politics Continuing Rightward Drift

Fearing huge losses at the next election, Israel’s largest opposition party, Kadima, has removed Tzipi Livni as its leader. Livni was foreign minister in the previous government and is one of Israel’s strongest advocates for peace with the Palestinians. Her replacement, Shaul Mofaz, is a former army chief-of-staff and ex-defense minister.

The FT‘s political post-mortem on Livni’s downfall points to Iran as the overwhelming cause of death: “polls show that Israeli voters are today gripped above all by concern over Iran’s nuclear programme, at the expense of issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Is Kadima’s move to oust Livni just a shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic? At least one survey published last week shows the party may fare even worse under Mofaz. What the vote to replace Livni with Mofaz highlights is Netanyahu’s dominance in the Israeli political arena; his position is only likely to strengthen the longer Iran remains at the forefront of Israeli political consciousness.

By turning to a former defense chief, Kadima has chosen to wrap itself in khaki, hoping it will enable them to better compete with Netanyahu on defense issues like Iran, as well as the instability unleashed by the Arab Spring. Livni’s Kadima actually won the most seats of any party in the most recent elections but she was unable—or unwilling—to form a coalition with the other parties. That reluctance was unpopular within Kadima, and we suspect Mofaz would be more likely to serve under Netanyahu in a coalition.

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  • Kris

    I’m not quite sure the post supports the headline.

    “By turning to a former defense chief, Kadima has chosen to wrap itself in khaki”

    Not a particularly original ploy. Kadima only beat the Likud by riding on Sharon’s khaki coattails, and the only two times Labor has beaten Likud in the past four decades (!) is by running a former Chief of Staff at its head. I don’t consider this propensity to turn to military men to be the height of propriety, and find it ironic that it is the Israeli Left which is doing so, in its desperate search for fig leaves.

    “Livni was foreign minister in the previous government and is one of Israel’s strongest advocates for peace with the Palestinians.”

    As an aside: Livni is a former high-ranking member of the Likud, as is Mofaz. The Likud signed Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt, in which Israel surrendered the entire Sinai peninsula (more than twice the size of “Greater Israel”). Netanyahu, head of Likud, has defied many in Israel’s right, by publicly calling for a Palestinian state. How “Likud” and “Likudnik” became pejoratives synonymous with “extremist” (at best) is a mystery to me.

  • David

    The Kadima primary had very little to do with either Iran or Palestinians, but with personalities. Livni was viewed as cold and ineffectual, someone who would bring down the whole party. Mofaz, was viewed as someone who had enough common sense and a lack of Livni’s Bibi-hatred to join a future Bibi government. The Kadima members don’t like being on the outside looking in, but prefer the opposite.

  • Micha

    It’s not Iran. It׳s Israelis loosing faith in the idea of peace, withdrawal and the ability of people who promote these ideas to deal with related security issues.

  • Saul

    Israeli politics aren’t drifting rightward at all. If anything, they’re continuing to drift leftward as they have for the past twenty years.

    Livni’s defeat was because of her incompetence, it had nothing to do with her politics, which, if truth be told, are not very different from Netanyahu’s.

    Kadima will probably disappear after the next election if they even last that long because they’re nothing but a bunch of political opportunists who stand for nothing except wanting to be in power and that doesn’t go over well with Israelis.

  • Michael Koplow

    I think you are analysis, which is generally spot on, is off here. Mofaz campaigned on social issues and explicitly criticized military action on Iran as premature.

  • Y.

    Iran? Nahh. This was decided for much more mundane reasons.

    A. Livni was distinctly unimpressive as party and opposition leader.
    * She couldn’t/didn’t want to/ form a government when Olmert left.
    * Her decision not to enter the government could be debated, but acting as if her position was far stronger than in reality was foolish.
    * Not only could she not seriously challenge the government, she failed to use the summer protests against it (though the fault here is as much with the party as with her).
    * She couldn’t keep “Mamlachtiot” when the PM talked to foreign audiences (I believe the American parallel would be “Politics Stops at the Water’s Edge”).
    * Polls show Kadima losing a fair number of seats.

    B. Kadima’s charter allows all but dictatorial control to the party leader. Livni seemed to enjoy (ab)using this. Mofaz, on the other hand, worked the field.

    C. And lastly, Livni was simply unworthy. While propped up by some media, a look at her career shows nothing exceptional.

    [Fair disclosure: am a member of an opposing political party]

  • Beauceron

    “Kadima has chosen to wrap itself in khaki”

    Well…olive green, actually.

  • Dimitry Papkov

    As others mentioned, the analysis is off in this case.
    Kadima is failing (and by extension Livni) because it failed to present any coherent alternative vision to Netanyahu’s, and people actually notice. Kadima’s positions on all the major issues, rhetoric aside, are virtually identical to Likud’s. When people know this, but see you acting as if there is some sort of great void between your positions and those of your opponents, the perception is not good.

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