Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz declared Monday that he wanted to throw out of the party a quartet of MKs who had sought to break away and join the Likud in exchange for prominent government positions.
And he accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of engaging in “political bribery” in trying to recruit them, saying that the prime minister was attempting to “legitimize draft-dodging” by going to extreme lengths to gain enough Knesset support for the Likud’s version of legislation on conscription for the ultra-Orthodox, a bill that Mofaz bitterly opposes.
A Likud statement fired back that Mofaz was now the chairman “of a quarter of a party” and that even those who are still with him “don’t believe his slogans.” It dismissed his criticism of the Likud’s planned version of the universal draft legislation.
Labor’s Shelly Yachimovich reiterated that Israel now needed early elections to bring down the Netanyahu government, and described Kadima as “a party empty of content.” She indicated that some Kadima members wanted to leave the party for Labor, and that she would be happy to have them, with no promises of senior positions for them. But she would not accept any of those who had been working to strengthen the Netanyahu coalition, she said.
Mofaz lodged a request with the Knesset House Committee for the quartet to be considered to have bolted. The committee, chaired by Likud MK Yariv Levin, is expected to vote on the request on Tuesday.
Mofaz said the renegade quartet had betrayed the voters who elected them, in that they were ready to vote for a law on national service that would destroy the notion of equal service for all.
The quartet are Avraham Duan, Arie Bibi, Yulia Shamalov-Berkovich and Otniel Schneller. Had they been joined by three other members of Kadima’s 28-strong Knesset faction, as had seemed likely until Monday morning, they would have bolted the party and joined the Likud. (A minimum of seven MKs was required for the split, under Knesset legislation.) Their move failed, however, because several other Kadima MKs who had considered splitting ultimately changed their minds.
Mofaz, at a brief press conference early Monday afternoon declared that “no one will bring Kadima to its knees.” Anyone who wanted to leave his party, he said, should “leave now.”
“Anyone who wants to join the corrupt, should go,” he said. “Anyone who wants to join the draft-dodgers, should go.”
He said all those who had negotiated with Netanyahu should be ashamed of themselves for endangering the future of Israel’s youngsters in exchange for marginal government positions. Ironically, Mofaz himself negotiated with Netanyahu and brought Kadima into the coalition a little over two months ago, only to lead it back out of government last week amid the dispute over legislation on conscription.
He said his party would foil the prime minister’s efforts to pass a law on universal conscription that would legitimize draft-dodging among the ultra-Orthodox. “We will continue to serve the public in opposition with head held high,” he said. The Likud version of the bill would “harm the future of the youngsters who do serve,” he said.
Despite Sunday evening headlines announcing a split in Kadima, the move, put together by former MK Tzachi Hanegbi, came apart at the seams on Monday morning.
Less than a week after Kadima voted to leave the governing coalition, a group of legislators led by Hanegbi had been ready to split off from Kadima to rejoin Netanyahu’s government. In exchange, the prime minister had offered up ministerial, deputy ministerial and committee chair posts, so long as the returning MKs promised to support his party’s proposed draft legislation and the 2013 budget.
On Monday morning, however, only four Kadima MKs confirmed their departure — Duan, Bibi, Shamalov-Berkovich and Schneller — not enough for the move to go through under Knesset rules. The breakaway failed, in part, because Netanyahu was not prepared to guarantee high spots for the defecting Kadima MKs on the Likud slate for the next Knesset.
Hanegbi is not an MK and is barred from serving in the Knesset for five more years after he was convicted in 2010 of acts involving moral turpitude for giving false testimony to the Central Elections Committee.
Despite the failure of the breakaway move, Hanegbi was still set to rejoin the Likud, however.
Hanegbi, for his recruitment efforts, had been set to receive the post of Home Front Defense Minister. MK Duan was offered the post of deputy welfare and social services minister. MK Bibi was offered a promotion to deputy internal security minister and MK Shamalov-Berkovich was offered the chance to serve as deputy minister of communications.
Schneller, former head of the Yesha Council of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, denied he was promised a Knesset committee chairman position in exchange for leaving Kadima. “As difficult as it is to believe, the move is ideologically driven,” he told Army Radio.
MK Jacob Edery had initially agreed to join the defectors after he was offered the chairmanship of the Knesset Economics Committee, but changed his mind Monday morning. “I didn’t ask for a post and wasn’t offered one,” Edery told Ynet.
MK Nino Abesadze was initially said to be leaving Kadima to form an independent party of her own or to join the Labor Party, but later said she would remain where she was.
Overnight, other names were raised as possible defectors, but by Monday morning, the rebels were plainly undermanned.
Former IDF spokesman MK Nachman Shai denied that he was a potential breakaway, despite reports that he was promised a ministerial post. Similar denials were issued by MKs Avi Dichter and Zeev Bielski.
MK Meir Sheetrit told Army Radio early Monday that he believed that the split would not take place after all. “I don’t believe they have the necessary seven names and I’m not even sure that those who have been reported as leaving will really quit. The chances of the move falling apart are good.”
Israel’s second-largest political coalition in history disintegrated last week a mere 70 days after its formation, as Mofaz announced his party’s break from the Likud-led government over the issue of universal enlistment to the IDF.
Netanyahu wanted Kadima MKs to jump ship, in part, in order to get the necessary number of votes in the Knesset to pass his party’s conscription bill, currently being worked on by Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon. That proposed legislation would grant ultra-Orthodox Jews the right to defer service until the age of 26.
“Mofaz made many mistakes since being elected. The final straw was his conduct around the Plesner committee and his failure to appoint experienced politicians on behalf of Kadima to conduct the negotiations with the Likud,” one legislator said, referring to Kadima’s attempt to push through its own universal draft legislation, which was a prerequisite for the party joining Netanyahu’s coalition in May.
“The real problem of Kadima is the factional splits, which are manifold and acute,” added the Knesset member.
Haaretz reported Monday that Kadima officials are working to depose Mofaz from his role as party head, citing the outgoing vice prime minister’s weak poll numbers.
Kadima was formed by former prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2005 by gathering together members of the Likud and Labor parties.
The party took 28 Knesset seats in the last election, in 2009, but polls show it would drop to the low teens, at best, were elections held now.