Like most political parties, Kadima is not monolithic. There are those who, based on that, have accused it of not having any ideology and being interested only in power. I would agree that there is a faction within Kadima that fits that description. However, Kadima was founded with a loftier vision, based on an important ideological vacuum that existed when it was founded in 2005.
There is no question that Kadima was created by one man, Ariel Sharon, to help him break free from what he felt was an increasingly intransigent Likud, preventing him from implementing the policies he felt were necessary for the future of the state. However, it would be a mistake to think this was only a tactical move. Sharon, and his key followers, had undergone a major change of heart in those years of, and leading up to, the disengagement from Gaza.
The Israeli left was in tatters. After the failure of the Camp David talks, and the ensuing intifada, Ehud Barak’s Labour party was completely discredited in the public’s eyes. On the other hand, Sharon knew that Likud rejectionism of the Oslo process and of the international consensus around the two-state solution was not realistic. Kadima’s platform was needed to put a credibly Zionist ideology behind pursuit of the two state solution.
Once Kadima became the ruling party, there is no question that there were those, from both left and right, who joined just to get a seat at the table. Kadima’s subsequent win under Ehud Olmert’s leadership, even after Sharon was removed from the scene by his stroke, maintained a truce between those truly committed to the new direction, and those just along for the ride so they could stay in the government.
In late 2008 and early 2009, Tzipi Livni, who won the leadership race after Ehud Olmert resigned under a cloud of corruption charges (a blog post for another day), made 2 key decisions – or rather one decision twice: before and after the election. A Kadima member’s perspective about this decision is the most important element in deciding whether to support her in the upcoming primary.
Livni’s rivals would say that she failed to form a government after Olmert resigned, leading to early elections. Then, after winning the most seats of any party in the election, she failed to form the government, allowing Likud to build the ruling coalition. While they are correct on the facts, her rivals are blinded by their perspective that all that matters is being in the government.
When Olmert resigned, Livni needed to rebuild the Kadima coalition. Shas, sensing weakness and knowing the polls, made great demands in order to continue to be in the government. Livni had the courage to do what no party leader had done in Israel’s history: say “No,” and go to elections despite polls that did not bode well for her or Kadima.
Livni ran a brilliant campaign. Kadima, after being blamed for the failures of the Second Lebanon War and despite a cloud of corruption hanging over it, succeeded in winning 28 seats – more than any other party.
After the election, there was an opportunity to create a broad-based coalition with Labour and Likud, or even perhaps Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu. This would have shut out the Haredi parties and allowed the government to carry out much needed reforms to the electoral system, enforce an equitable draft policy and address the inequities of the religiously run personal status system.
Livni needed Netanyahu’s cooperation to make this happen. He chose instead to first solidify his position with his “natural partners” on the right. He then offered Kadima an opportunity to join, but with Shas and the Haredi parties already in the coalition, there was no point. Again, Livni bravely chose to go to the opposition.
(On a side note, the diminished Labour party did join the coaltion, as Ehud Barak could not stomach the idea of not being in the government. Since the Likud did not need them, they had no influence, and eventually split in two. For a long time, I could not understand why Netanyahu gave Barak the defense ministry when Labour had no leverage. Then I realized that in doing so, Netanyahu had prevented any rival Likud member from using the coveted position as a platform to challenge him.)
Since her role as a Foreign Minister during the Second Lebanon War, and through her performance as opposition leader, I have been impressed by her effectiveness, her commitment and her ability to express a clear direction for Israel going forward. However, what makes her the leader we need today is her courage.
We need more politicians with the guts to do what Livni did. Israel’s future depends on our ability to create a governing coalition with broad national interests – not sectarian demands. No other politician has shown by their actions, not just their words, that they are willing to pay the price to make that happen.
(The author has been a member of Kadima since 2005, and is volunteering on Tzipi Livni’s primary campaign.)