Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his new deputy Shaul Mofaz announced their alliance today at noon. But the more significant shift in the political arena came after the two men, bathed in a false fraternal glow, ambled out of the room and the presumed new head of the opposition made her way to the podium.
Shelly Yachimovich, leader of the eight-seat Labor Party and likely head of a meager 26-member opposition, will fill the void left by her predecessors, the constitutionally unfit Tzipi Livni and the ideologically unsuitable Shaul Mofaz.
Kadima was incapable of filling the crucial role of opposition. Unlike Menachem Begin, who headed the parliamentary minority for nearly three decades, Livni and Mofaz were devoid of all oratory gifts. And while Livni was several reluctant shades to the left of Netanyahu politically, both she and Mofaz were in lockstep with the Likud agenda economically.
Yachimovich is different from them in every way. She is a journalist, comfortable in the limelight and able to speak off the cuff. Looking out at the crowd rather than down at the lectern, she described Netanyahu and Mofaz as “having a confident masculine posture” and the ability to “speak in a decisive, clipped diction,” but wondered, rhetorically, whether “the notion of truth has any value” and whether “all things have been emptied of content.”
She labeled Kadima’s move “a fraud,” calling it “the most absurd and disgraceful flip-flop in the annals of Israeli politics.” She claimed it would be taught in classrooms and that it alone was at the root of adolescent disgust for Israeli politics.
The sting of indignant anger has been absent from the Israeli political stage for too long.
More importantly, despite the fact that the majority in Knesset today is larger than ever before – a full, and perhaps worrying, 78% of the house – the tables have now been righted. Once again Israel has a majority ruling bloc and a true, if small, opposition.
The centrist Kadima party, created by Sharon as a means to govern without the constraints of the Likud Central Committee, has always been lost in the opposition.
It arrived there on principle: Livni wouldn’t succumb to the demands of the Shas party and preferred elections to a tainted deal. But Kadima never knew what to do there. How could it? The party, at birth, was home to Shimon Peres and Haim Ramon along with a host of Likud members and a former secretary general of the Yesha Council. And when Ehud Barak, against his party’s wishes, flanked it from the right and pulled his party into Netanyahu’s government, Kadima was lost. Its MKs found themselves seated with the Arab political parties and quasi socialist members of Labor. What’s more, they were led by a woman who always seemed more suited to her earlier, clandestine work in the Mossad.
Perhaps their most memorable moment in the opposition came in January 2011 when Barak’s breakaway Independence Party was voted into the coalition and MKs, in a show of disgust, sprayed the plenum air with freshener.
Kadima, Yachimoch said Tuesday, acted purely on a survival instinct in joining the government, “fleeing the verdict of the voter.”
She and Netanyahu, however, are separated by “a glaring ideological divide.” She called him “an extreme Thatcherite of the old school.” He might call her a Leninst if the shoe was on the other foot. She called him “a man of the extreme right in his political opinions.” He might call her delusional.
But at the very least, and at long last, our prime minister and minority leader genuinely, and passionately, disagree.