In Is­rael, it’s not the po­lit­i­cal fight that makes a dif­fer­ence

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment - Jenni Frazer

TZIPI LIVNI’S dra­matic rise and fall has been pored over by the com­men­tariat. From be­ing the golden girl of Is­raeli pol­i­tics on the in­ter­na­tional stage — cool and gor­geous with a “mys­te­ri­ous” Mos­sad back­ground — one­time For­eign Min­is­ter Livni man­aged ef­fec­tively to throw away the lead­er­ship of Kadima, af­ter be­ing dealt a knock-out blow by Shaul Mo­faz. Livni has held a clutch of min­is­te­rial posts: hous­ing and con­struc­tion, im­mi­grant ab­sorp­tion, agri­cul­ture, jus­tice. She was one of the Time 100 Most In­flu­en­tial Peo­ple in the World. Forbes ranked her the 40th most pow­er­ful woman in the world in 2006. Now she is re­ported to be con­sid­er­ing giv­ing up pol­i­tics al­to­gether.

Most com­men­ta­tors be­lieve that Livni’s down­fall could be at­trib­uted to her se­rial dither­ing, her fail­ure to put to­gether a coali­tion in 2009 af­ter she won the lead­er­ship of Kadima — nar­rowly beat­ing Mo­faz at the time — her in­abil­ity to lay a glove on Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, or her all but in­ex­pli­ca­ble si­lence dur­ing last sum­mer’s so­cial protests.

She has not ex­actly been helped in her bid to re­tain con­trol of Kadima, the party be­queathed to her by for­mer prime min­is­ter Ehud Olmert, by the long-her­alded ap­pear­ance on the po­lit­i­cal stage of Yair Lapid, the jour­nal­ist and high-pro­file tele­vi­sion pre­sen­ter. Even be­fore he jumped feet-first into the swamp of Is­raeli pol­i­tics, Lapid was work­ing the squeezed mid­dle — yes, it ex­ists in Is­rael, too — by ap­peal­ing to those who were un­happy about the ab­sence of the strictly Ortho­dox in the jobs mar­ket, and most of all, in the mil­i­tary.

And it is there, in the drab olive and khaki uni­forms of the IDF, that I be­lieve lie the true seeds of Livni’s down­fall. For Mo­faz is not just an­other unlovely Is­raeli politi­cian. He is a for­mer chief of staff and, as such, fol­lows a long tra­di­tion in Is­raeli pol­i­tics: the army will pro­vide.

From the 1950s to the 1990s, the army did pro­vide. Gen­er­als and brigadiers, ad­mi­rals and air force chiefs, all moved seam­lessly side­ways into the po­lit­i­cal arena. If not in ac­tual po­lit­i­cal par­ties, the brass se­cured them­selves nice lit­tle earn­ers as heads of the Jewish Agency, the Port Au­thor­ity, El Al, etc, etc.

The list is end­less, from Yi­gal Allon to Yitzchak Rabin to Ehud Barak, from Moshe Dayan to Chaim Her­zog to Ezer Weiz­man, and, of course, to the uber­sol­dier, Ariel Sharon. Those few politi­cians who did not have a glit­ter­ing army ca­reer, such as Abba Eban, Me­nachem Be­gin or Shi­mon Peres, had to work that much harder to win the public’s trust and af­fec­tion. Ar­guably Peres has taken un­til to­day, aged nearly 89, to get to that stage, gain­ing plau­dits in­ter­na­tion­ally as Is­rael’s ninth pres­i­dent. His very pop­u­lar­ity to­day makes it hard to re­mem­ber the at­tacks on him as a man who did not see army ser­vice, de­spite ev­ery­thing in his ca­reer that he did to fur­ther Is­rael’s aims and in­ter­ests.

In­stinc­tively and un­for­tu­nately, the army comes first for Is­raelis. The plain truth is that if you don’t have a mil­i­tary back­ground, you are nowhere. And Livni, who reached the rank of lieu­tenant dur­ing her army ser­vice, does in­deed have a mil­i­tary back­ground. But cru­cially, and in­evitably, she doesn’t have the sort of old boys’ net­work mil­i­tary back­ground en­joyed by Mo­faz and the many other army con­tem­po­raries who slide so eas­ily into the gov­er­nance of Is­rael, ef­fec­tively mak­ing the IDF a kind of train­ing spring­board for run­ning Is­raeli so­ci­ety.

Got a niche that needs fill­ing in your com­pany? Re­mem­ber Moshe who went through ba­sic train­ing with you… or Chaim who spent time on the tanks with you…or Yossi who you knew from your time in the Golan/on the south­ern bor­der/in Gaza/dis­en­gag­ing from Gaza/bomb­ing Gaza…one way or an­other, the Moshes and the Chaims and the Yos­sis form an im­preg­nable arch in Is­rael, through which the Liv­nis of this world can never en­ter.

For all her po­lit­i­cal and min­is­te­rial ex­pe­ri­ence, for all her in­ter­na­tional pro­file, for all her iden­ti­fi­ca­tion as the poster girl of the univer­sal ju­ris­dic­tion cam­paign (it was an at­tempt to ar­rest Livni dur­ing a visit to London which gal­vanised the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment into chang­ing the law), Livni had one vi­tal miss­ing USP — the mil­i­tary fac­tor. Add to that her shad­owy Mos­sad ca­reer and it’s re­ally not that sur­pris­ing that she lost to a far more medi­ocre can­di­date, Mo­faz. Short of phys­i­cally bring­ing home Gi­lad Shalit her­self, Livni had nowhere to go but down.

Jenni Frazer is as­sis­tant ed­i­tor of the JC

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