Israel Pulse

Israeli party lists show new names, little experience

Article Summary
Ahead of Israel's elections, many publicly unknown figures have been promised slots on different party lists, while the esteemed former Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz was rejected and no leading municipal leader and few former generals were willing to join.

On the evening of Jan. 18, Knesset member Eitan Cabel was sent to the home of Kadima Party Chairman Shaul Mofaz in Kochav Yair to offer him the safe 20th spot on the Herzog-Livni Zionist Camp list. Cabel also offered the former defense minister the opportunity to add another person from his party to the fourth tier of candidates. Thus ended several weeks of bizarre and rickety negotiations between Mofaz and the head of the Zionist Camp list, Labor Party Chairman Isaac Herzog. Mofaz rejected the offer as anticipated. After all, the offer was made with the intention that he would reject it.

The following day, Zionist Camp leaders Herzog and Tzipi Livni held a pretentious news conference to announce that Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin (res.) would be joining their group as its senior security figure. Yadlin, former head of the Military Intelligence Directorate, was also a bold pilot, who participated in the bombing of the nuclear reactor in Iraq 1981. He is the son of Aharon Yadlin, a former leader of the Mapai Party (the mother party of today's Labor), who once served as minister of education. Thus, he is undoubtedly a refreshing new acquisition.

In private talks, the leaders of the Zionist Camp and their representatives admitted that in the polls and surveys they conducted, Yadlin proved to be a far more attractive candidate than Mofaz. As the current head of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), he is the Zionist Camp’s candidate for defense minister, but even so, he will not appear on the party’s list, because he is unwilling to give up his enviable position except to serve as defense minister.

Only time will tell how much Yadlin will contribute to the success of the Zionist Camp in the coming elections. Herzog had been courting Mofaz intensely and even enthusiastically, with the belief that adding him to the Labor Party would succeed in attracting a new constituency of Mizrahi (of Middle Eastern origin) supporters from the periphery. But as soon as he sealed the deal to join forces with Livni, it became very clear that Herzog had moved his courtship of Mofaz to a back burner. The Labor Party leader suddenly had reservations, explaining privately that all the polls showed that Mofaz’s reputation had eroded.

It is most likely that Mofaz will not run in the next elections for the simple reason that no one is asking him to run. The man who was once a revered defense minister and chief of staff, who picked up the hotline in the middle of the night on more than one occasion, and who was never suspected, never mind investigated, of engaging in criminal activity, a man who leads a modest lifestyle (and not just for show), found himself this time outside the political system. In other words, he’s not trendy. Livni considers him a far less attractive candidate than a fairly anonymous journalist such as Ksenia Svetlova, Arab Affairs correspondent for the Russian-language Channel 9. After all, that is who Livni chose to give a safe spot on her party list.

And it is not just Ksenia Svetlova either. The stars of the hour, journalists Sharon Gal and Yinon Magal, were also given safe spots in the Yisrael Beitenu and HaBayit HaYehudi parties respectively, and will apparently serve in the next Knesset. In former Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party, the third spot was reserved for Ethiopian journalist Tsega Melaku, right after Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant (res.). Other stars recruited by Kahlon are the deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Rachel Azaria, and the former deputy mayor of Kiryat Shmona, Yifat Sasa-Bitton.

In fact, the list of stars offered safe spots on the various parties’ lists for the 2015 elections is long, unimaginative and uninspiring. For the most part, it is random too, indicating that key figures in the economy and in the market are reluctant to enter politics as a profession, or in other words, as a long-term move in their careers. Those who do make the transition to politics, such as Galant and professor Manuel Trachtenberg, seem like temporary guests whose spots have been saved for them in advance.

Trachtenberg and Yadlin are the Zionist Camp’s candidates for finance minister and defense minister, respectively. Galant is Kahlon’s candidate for defense minister. Chances are that none of them will serve in the aforementioned positions. They are little more than temporary icing on the cake, and it is not at all certain whether we will see them in politics also in the next election.

Once, and not so long ago, just 12 years ago in November 2002, Mofaz was the new person in Israeli politics — the chief of staff who removed his uniform and joined the Likud, ran in the primaries and was elected to the No. 12 spot on the party’s Knesset list. After the elections, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon appointed him defense minister. Current Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who served as chief of staff and then joined the Likud in 2009, also ran in the primaries for a place on the list.

There were other generals with well-earned reputations who ran for their slots on the Knesset lists of the parties which they joined; generals such as Sharon, Ehud Barak, Moshe Dayan and Ezer Weizman. The Israeli public was familiar with and knew each general — which wars he fought and which battles he took part in.

Even in later years, it was customary for newcomers to run for their spots. That is why former Labor Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich, a highly respected senior journalist, ran for a spot on the Labor Party list in 2006.

Less than a decade later, two problematic trends have emerged. The new stars who have been joining the parties are not usually prominent public figures or do not have a familiar executive record of impressive achievements. Despite that, they have received safe seats in the Knesset without having to compete for them, and they have managed to do this even after joining parties that engage in the democratic process of electing their Knesset lists.

In addition, the army, which used to be a source for excellent candidates for Israeli politics, is no longer part of the game. Nor is local government injecting fresh blood into politics like it used to. Successful mayors such as Ron Huldai of Tel Aviv and Rubik Danilovich of Beersheba prefer to continue running their cities. If anything, local politics is feeding national politics with a slew of unknown, midlevel bureaucrats such as Safad Mayor Ilan Shohat, who was given a spot on the Yisrael Beitenu list, or deputy mayors Sasa-Bitton and Azaria, who were given spots on the Kulanu list.

Prominent military figures such as Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland (res.) or Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplan (res.), both of whom received offers over the past few years to join Labor, Likud, and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, preferred to continue with their current occupation.

From one election to the next, Israeli politics has increasingly become a frenzied, cynical reality show, ejecting even as worthy a man as Mofaz. An incisively accurate description of this can be found in Mofaz’s own election campaign commercial from the previous election in 2013. In a text that is both painfully trenchant and more relevant than ever, actor Uri Gavriel says, “It’s sad that in order to get the strength to change something, you have to look nice and talk well. The fact that you’re the only politician who has not gotten himself dirty with financial connections doesn’t count for you.”

Back then it helped Mofaz win two seats. Today, he can’t do even that.

Found in: zionist, shaul mofaz, politics, knesset, israel, elections

Mazal Mualem is a columnist for Al-Monitor's Israel Pulse and formerly the senior political correspondent for Maariv and Haaretz. She also presents a weekly TV show covering social issues on the Knesset channel. On Twitter: @mazalm3


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