Can you split fog? Apparently you can in Israeli politics, as four Kadima MKs leave their faction to support Likud. As of this writing—and it being Israeli politics, anything can change–Otniel Schneller, Avi Duan, Arieh Bibi, and Yulia Shamolov Berkovich will be voting with the governing Likud coalition, even though their vague, undefined, ideologically obscure party bolted the coalition last week. This shift has their former Kadima comrades trying to strip them of privileges by appealing to the Knesset House Committee, as Kadima’s leader Shaul Mofaz accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of “pimping” Kadima MKs—although I think he meant seducing.
The defection of the four is only a partial victory for Bibi, who continues to show more enthusiasm for politicking than governing. Had he wooed three more Kadima MKs for a total of seven, he would have triggered an official party split. Now, he has just made a royal political mess. Even some Likud loyalists are unhappy. “The Likud is not a political garbage can,” Likud MK Danny Danon growled. “We won’t allow slots to be reserved for opportunists who left a sinking ship.”
The irony is that Danon’s “opportunists who left a sinking ship” line could apply to Kadima’s start as well as what now may be its finish. Many Kadima MKs were former Likudniks who abandoned that party when Ariel Sharon was alive and well and maneuvering politically, seeking support for the disengagement from Gaza. Kadima became labeled the “centrist” party because it was to the Likud’s “left” on territorial compromise. But the labeling dismayed those of us who seek muscular moderates, politicians deeply committed to the idea of center-seeking. Kadima’s mock moderates' entrance into a marriage of convenience with Netanyahu, which has now dissolved, were motivated by expedience, not principle or vision.
Apparently, the Knesset House Committee will reject Kadima’s call to sanction the deserters. But their defection raises fascinating legal questions—is an individual elected to the Knesset or is the party simply authorized to fill a particular slot based on the number of votes it received? One of the biggest problems with Israeli politics is that Knesset legislators are too beholden to their parties and rarely act as free agents. Israel needs some regional representation and more personal legislative accountability. The parties are too powerful and individual constituents do not have a real Knesset address for particular problems, adding to the general cynicism and disaffection.
Sometime these kinds of party defections can be part of a helpful ideological realignment. Unfortunately, this spectacle appears to be one more round in a perpetual series of political maneuvers, and seems more destined to discourage than inspire, to alienate rather than activate. Netanyahu will emerge a little stronger after this round but not strong enough, or courageous enough, to confront the Ultra-Orthodox on the draft issue. The Knesset, alas, continues to be more like a cross between the Chicago City Council and an Arab souk, rather than the suitably sacred yet secularized update to the Sanhedrin the early Zionists envisioned.