Hatnua MK Ksenia Svetlova announces she's quitting politics

Livni launches election campaign, accusing government of destroying democracy

After humiliating breakup with Labor, Hatnua party leader says she is open to mergers with other parties

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Head of Hatnua party Tzipi Livni speaks at a campaign event on January 29, 2019. (Flash90)
Head of Hatnua party Tzipi Livni speaks at a campaign event on January 29, 2019. (Flash90)

Less than a month after she was ousted from the Zionist Union opposition alliance on live television by Labor leader Avi Gabbay, Tzipi Livni launched her Hatnua party’s election campaign Tuesday.

Livni took aim at prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing allies, charging that they were sullying Israel’s Zionist character.

“Israel is strong enough to deal with material existential threats, with Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. But alongside that threat, another threat has risen to Israel’s identity,” Livni told supporters in her speech in Tel Aviv. “Our struggle has been to establish a state that is both Jewish and democratic, and whoever harms one of those sides of the equation is not a Zionist.

“Netanyahu and his allies are turning Israel into a state that isn’t Jewish and isn’t democratic,” Livni charged, playing a clip in which the premier and Education Minister Naftali Bennett make remarks against law enforcement officials.

She accused Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of ideologically trying to “destroy the courts and the attorney general’s office” by promoting conservative judges and attempting to alter the job definition of the attorney general.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, seen with Education Minister Naftali Bennett at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on August 30, 2016. (Emil Salman/Pool)

Referring to three corruption cases in which police have recommended bribery charges against Netanyahu, Livni said he was “inciting against journalists, police, prosecutors and the attorney general” and therefore “cannot remain prime minister for another single day.”

To preserve Israel as Jewish and democratic, Livni argued, Israel must disengage from the Palestinians.

Polls show Livni, a one-time would-be prime minister, barely squeaking into the Knesset, if at all, unless Hatnua teams up with another party or well-known politician.

Regarding potential mergers with other parties ahead of the April 9 elections, Livni said that “it isn’t a secret that I’ve talked about connections. I believe in a [center-left] bloc and I’m looking forward to the moment when hope will come back to an entire bloc that is currently confused.”

Ksenia Svetlova of the Zionist Union party. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

One lawmaker who won’t be part of such an anti-Netanyahu alliance is MK Ksenia Svetlova, who notified Livni before the campaign launch that she was leaving Hatnua and quitting politics, reportedly after understanding she wouldn’t be getting a good spot on the party’s slate.

“When I entered the Knesset I vowed to help immigrants and the disadvantaged,” tweeted the former journalist, an immigrant herself from the former Soviet Union. “That won’t happen in the current political framework.”

Earlier this month, Hatnua was said to be in talks with centrist Yesh Atid party chairman Yair Lapid to form a center-left bloc in a bid to challenge Netanyahu and his Likud party in the upcoming elections.

The two have met to discuss a possible political merger a number of times since Labor chair Avi Gabbay split with Livni when he dissolved the Zionist Union during a live TV broadcast on January 1, the Haaretz daily said.

Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay (L) announces the shock break up of the Zionist Union as his erstwhile partner, head of opposition Tzipi Livni, looks on, during a party faction meeting in the Knesset on January 1, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to the report, Livni has agreed to cede the number one spot on a joint Hatnua-Yesh Atid list to Lapid.

Lapid is reportedly seeking to unite with Livni after failing to bring in voters from the center-right over the past three years. The Yesh Atid chairman hopes that if a Lapid-Livni list is popular enough with voters, he will also be able to court former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, who is set to make a much-anticipated speech of his own Tuesday evening.

Surveys have said Gantz’s party, Israel Resilience, would finish second to Likud in elections, though well behind it. They have also indicated he could pose a more potent challenge to Netanyahu’s ruling party if he were to team up with another centrist party.

Reports of possible political unification moves between center-left parties come with Labor, Israel’s traditional center-left party, losing voters after Gabbay split with Livni.

Both Gantz and Lapid are understood to oppose any alliance with Gabbay and the center-left Labor, since they are trying to capture votes from left and right; he has said he would insist on heading any such partnership.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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