The ironies of a breakaway that wasn’t

The ironies of a breakaway that wasn’t

Mofaz, who 2 months ago betrayed his voters to negotiate an alliance with the PM, now seeks to kick out 4 Kadima MKs for trying but failing to do the same thing

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Kadima chair Shaul Mofaz leads a party meeting earlier this month (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Kadima chair Shaul Mofaz leads a party meeting earlier this month (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A minor and a major irony surround Shaul Mofaz’s bid to kick out from Kadima the quartet of MKs who have been negotiating with the Likud about joining the coalition — a breakaway that collapsed overnight Sunday.

The minor irony is that the rebel MKs were hoping to leave the sinking Kadima ship and join forces with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by utilizing the so-called “Mofaz Law.” Passed in 2009, during the current Knesset term, this law allows any group of seven lawmakers to peel away from their mother Knesset faction. Its passage was seen at the time as part of a ploy by Netanyahu to lure Mofaz away from Kadima — then led by his archrival Tzipi Livni.

This week’s rebels, coordinated by backroom dealer extraordinaire ex-MK Tzachi Hanegbi, thought that their camp numbered seven. But several potential defectors had last-minute changes of heart — notably when it became clear that the Likud would not clear places for them on its next Knesset slate — dooming the mutiny.

Mofaz resisted the temptation to bolt Kadima for the Likud when the “Mofaz Law” was enacted. Instead, he battled against Livni within Kadima, and finally ousted her as party leader in March. Which brings us to the major irony.

Mofaz came over all indignant on Monday, accusing the quartet of rebels of abandoning all their principles, and betraying the voters who had elected them, with their secretive efforts to join forces with Netanyahu. They were allying themselves with the forces of corruption, he declared. They ought to do some soul-searching, sit down with their families, consider how they had sinned.

Was this the same Mofaz, one could be forgiven for wondering, who barely two months ago negotiated secretly with Netanyahu to bring Kadima into the coalition, having sworn blind during the Kadima leadership race that he would do no such thing? Here he was, on Monday, seeking to throw Knesset members out of his border for wanting to partner with Netanyahu in return for ministerial and other government jobs, all of 80 days after he had partnered with Netanyahu and become vice prime minister.

Of course, Mofaz would argue — did argue — that things have changed. He joined the coalition on May 8 in order to push through a fair law on universal conscription. And he led Kadima back out again when Netanyahu rejected the fair-minded legislation he says his party was pushing.

Whatever one thinks of Mofaz’s constant flip-flopping, his tough stance on the renegades was tactically smart. Avraham Duan, Arie Bibi, Yulia Shamalov-Berkovich and Otniel Schneller now have next-to-no-hope of creating a breakaway faction. The Knesset’s House Committee is expected to vote Tuesday on Mofaz’s request to boot them out of Kadima, which would render them politically impotent.

Still, even if the House Committee grants his request, Mofaz won’t be able to bring in to the Knesset four different MKs more to his taste. Once elected, an MK cannot be fired from the Knesset, not even by the head of his or her party. As publicly elected lawmakers, Duan, Bibi, Shamalov-Berkovich and Schneller would continue to vote on bills brought to the Knesset plenum. But they wouldn’t receive any seats on Knesset committees, drastically reducing their influence on the legislative decision-making process. Kadima would actually be reduced to 24 lawmakers, and would no longer be the largest party in the Knesset. The Likud has 27.

By seeking to boot out the four rebels, Mofaz is also trying to ensure their financial value stays with Kadima. Every MK elected to the Knesset brings state funding for their party. Had they successfully split off, some of that money would have gone with them.

Many pundits are describing the ongoing political circus surrounding, but not limited to, Kadima as being one of unprecedented ugliness. But Israel has seen no shortage of coalitions cobbled together for dubious motives, and demolished for worse. And other parties have booted out their mavericks in the past. In this very Knesset, Haim Amsellem was kicked out of Shas for his dissenting views, such as advocating military service for yeshiva students.

Now we wait to see how the breakaway that wasn’t will impact the wider political scene. Some coalition insiders were already spreading rumors Monday afternoon about a snap election 90 days from now. In this climate of mutating coalitions and defecting MKs, potential comebacks and backroom deals, the threat of premature elections is ever-present.

But regardless of whether Israel heads to the polls later this year — as ex-opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich and others demand, or nearer the scheduled date in the fall of 2013 — one truth remains undeniable, ironically or otherwise: The days when Kadima could draw the support of large parts of the population are over.

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