Israel has a history of spewing up parties, I noted today in "Ariel Sharon, Escapist," whose common elements include "a powerful urge to cut through the maze of difficulties [surrounding Israel] with gratifyingly sharp and decisive answers" and that these parties reflect the Israeli electorate's demoralization "when complex issues continuously resist solution." I therefore predicted that Kadima "will (1) fall about as abruptly as it has arisen and (2) leave behind a meager legacy." How do others see Kadima? I shall note some of the more interesting arguments here.
Daniel Friedman a Yedi'ot Aharonot columnist, reaches the precise opposite conclusion, also looking at the past record, in "History won't repeat itself":
there are no similarities in the conditions that brought Sharon to create the Kadima Party and those that sent Ben-Gurion to create Rafi in 1965 (just seven Knesset members joined Ben-Gurion's party). Then, the new party was created against a background of conflict between Ben-Gurion and other party members, at a time when Mapai was at the height of its power and most of the public did not support Ben-Gurion's position.
Another example: Dash was little more than a conglomerate of several different parties that never really worked together, and leader Yadin lacked political experience and couldn't really run the party. More recently, the Center Party was created out of opposition to the government of Benjamin Netanyahu. Only a few MKs [members of Knesset] joined the party, and infighting started as soon as the nascent party was established. ... there is nothing to suggest the future of the new party is just history repeating itself.
(November 28, 2005)
Dec. 1, 2005 update: Evelyn Gordon agrees that Kadima is an exercise in escapism. She argues that "Ariel Sharon currently appears poised to become the first person ever elected precisely because nobody believes a word he says," then backs this up with references to the Road Map and a second unilateral withdrawal. She concludes that "By rewarding Sharon's dishonesty rather than penalizing it, Israeli voters would send the wrong message that not only do they not object to being told lies, they actually want and expect their leaders to lie to them."
Dec. 20, 2005 update: Hillel Halkin agrees that Kadima's impact will likely be limited. He spins a scenario of Ariel Sharon having a serious medical problem that ends with elections on March 28, 2006:
Labor, Kadima, and Likud each win about 20 votes in the 120-member Knesset. Even after long and laborious coalition negotiations, none of the three is able to form a coalition. New elections are announced for June. Meanwhile Ehud Olmert will continue to govern without a party or public to support him. Mr. Peres announces that he will not run again. Kadima finishes falling apart. The political map reverts to what it was before Ariel Sharon founded Kadima, with Labor and the Likud as the country's two major parties and numerous splinter groups on either side of them.
Then Halkin notes that while this outcome is just one of many,
yet all would point to the same conclusion. At the age of 78, a political leader who so precipitously sets out to refashion the political system of his country that he himself remains its sole point of stability is doing something that is potentially very dangerous. Mr. Sharon's Kadima is not a real political party. It has no members apart from its candidates for the Knesset, no national structure, no local chapters, no regulations or by-laws, no way of making decisions. Without Ariel Sharon, it is nothing and would not last long.
Nor is it just a question of getting through the period between now and the elections. Even if Mr. Sharon stays healthy and wins them and continues to serve as Israel's prime minister, anything happening to him in the years ahead could send Israeli politics spinning out of control. … policies should not be allowed to depend on the health of a single man. They need a political organization to give them durability and continuity. At the very least Mr. Sharon had better make it his business to turn Kadima into such an organization in a hurry, and to lay down rules for how it should pick his successor
Dec. 26, 2005 update: Rafi Smith of the Smith Institute in Tel Aviv, quoted in the Jerusalem Report (not online), explains why Kadima is different from its predecessors; points to Kadima's broad base of support and national resonance. "This time we have a popular sitting prime minister with an agenda on the key Palestinian issue that many Israelis believe is realistic and right."
Jan. 5, 2006 update: I offer my thoughts today on Kadima, post-Ariel Sharon, in "Israeli Politics Will Revert to Its Past."
Jan. 25, 2006 update: Isi Liebler captures the Kadima phenomenon in the Jerusalem Post:
Paradoxically, it was secular rather than religious Israelis who were captivated by messianic fervor for Sharon, mesmerizing themselves into believing that they were supporting a centrist party. In reality they were entrusting the fate of the nation to an authoritarian leader whose brand-new Kadima party ranged from octogenarian Shimon Peres, who still extols the virtues of the Oslo Accords, to Tzahi Hanegbi, the former hard-line chairman of Likud. …
The policies of Kadima (as distinct from its vague manifesto) are utterly contradictory. Sharon had stated explicitly that there would be no further withdrawals until the terror infrastructure was dismantled, and that Jerusalem would remain an undivided city. Yet Sharon's aides simultaneously announced that Kadima would make further withdrawals from the West Bank, dismantling all settlements outside the main blocs as well as ceding major sections of east Jerusalem to the Palestinians. When challenged to reconcile these contradictions prior to Sharon's illness, his aides had the effrontery to say that Sharon would enlighten the people about his policies at a time of his choosing after the elections. Amazingly, even after Sharon was stricken, this personality cult continued to thrive.
Mar. 29, 2006 update:With 29 seats and a first-place finish in yesterday's elections, Kadima held together and did significantly better than I expected. Nonetheless, I continue to see it as a transient party. We will have to wait for subsequent national elections to see if this prediction is correct.
May 11, 2006 update: Kadima won a plurality of votes in the March 28 elections but that does not convince the renowned political consultant Arthur Finkelstein that it will last. In a conversation with the Connecticut Jewish Ledger, he replied to the question, "How do you think Kadima will fare as the new ruling party?"
I think it's a short-lived government and that Israel will have to go through this whole process again fairly soon. The resulting coalition is a salad, not a stew. It is not a blend of things together, but a bunch of distinctly different pieces. Throwing all these special interests together in one bowl makes it difficult if not impossible to govern.
Sep. 5, 2006 update: Leslie Susser of the JTA considers various scenarious in her article, "With Olmert and Peretz on the ropes, Israel's Big Bang looks like a big bust," ending on this note: More and more, the pundits
are starting to talk about a scenario in which Kadima disappears altogether, with some of its members going over to Labor and others back to Likud, and with Likud and Labor re-emerging as the two main forces in Israeli politics. If that happens, both Olmert and Peretz likely would be out of their jobs, and the so-called Big Bang of Israeli politics — sparked by Ariel Sharon's defection from the Likud last year to form Kadima — will have proved to be a big bust.
My prediction: Kadima's name will not be on the ballot when the next Israeli national elections take place.
Sep. 7, 2006 update: "Bye Bye Kadima" sums up Moshe Arens' dubious appraisal in Ha'aretz today of Israel's ruling party.
Soon it will be time to say good-bye to Kadima, this incongruous political party that, like a flash in a pan, suddenly appeared on the Israeli political scene, brandishing a single issue platform - disengagement, unilateral withdrawal, convergence, realignment, or whatever else you want to call it - claiming that this was the panacea for all of Israel's ills, and a recipe for the existence of Israel as a "democratic Jewish state" that would become "a fun place to live in." Nothing resembling this phenomenon has ever been seen on the Israeli political scene, or for that matter in other democratic countries.
Spin doctors and snake-oil salesmen succeeded in marketing it to much of the Israeli public. It will surely be fertile ground for future doctoral dissertations in political science and mass psychology. There have been new-born parties that appeared at election time, here and elsewhere, but they have never before succeeded in winning an election. The time is approaching - better sooner rather than later - when this party will leave the political scene. What began as a political "big bang" will be going out as a whimper. Curtain time is approaching for Kadima.
Aug. 1, 2008 update: In the aftermath of Ehud Olmert's statement that he will (eventually) resign as prime minister, Caroline Glick presents a blistering assessment of his party in "Kadima's legacy of nothingness":
Winning and maintaining power for power's sake, irrespective of the national interest and ideological principles, were the purposes for which Kadima was founded by Ariel Sharon. Sharon founded Kadima as a self-consciously post-ideological party. And as Kadima's first elected prime minister, Olmert is Israel's first post-ideological premier.
Olmert and Kadima are the direct consequences of Sharon's decision to turn his back on his party, and on the ideology that brought him into office in 2003 in favor of clinging to power for power's sake. To remain in office amidst two serious criminal probes, Sharon betrayed his ideological camp and Israel's national security interests. This he did by implementing the discredited radical leftist policy championed by Israel's media and legal fraternity of withdrawing all Israeli military personnel and civilians from the Gaza Strip and transferring control of the area to Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror control.
Sharon, Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and their political consultants presented Kadima's rejection of ideology as its chief selling point. By not being committed to either left-wing or right-wing ideals, they assured us that Kadima would always do the right thing for the country. But the opposite occurred.
Without the benefit of ideology to guide them, Kadima's leaders have been led by nothing more than their personal interests. And their primary interest is not to do what is best for the country irrespective of ideology. Their primary interest is to maintain and expand their power for as long as possible. To maintain and expand their power, Kadima's leaders from Olmert to the party's last backbencher have sought to align their policies with the nation's shifting moods. The nation's mood swings from left to right are always followed by sharp changes in Kadima's policies.
Glick charges that Olmert and his colleagues can't be bothered to deal with the actual threats arrayed against Israel because "They are too busy. Deciding who you are each day anew on the basis of the morning radio broadcasts is a time-consuming venture. And their solitary aim remains constant throughout. They just want to stay in power for another day, another week or with a little luck, for a few more months." This, she concludes, "is the sad and desperate face of post-ideological politics. While as prime ministers, left-wing leaders such as Defense Minister Ehud Barak and President Shimon Peres could only make mistakes in one direction, post-ideological leaders like Olmert and his colleagues in Kadima can and do make mistakes in all directions."
Jan. 18, 2010 update: Kadima won a plurality of votes in the February 2009 elections but did not have enough allies to form a government, so it now heads the opposition. In an unsigned and unposted analysis, "Netanyahu Makes Play for Kadima," the Jerusalem Report takes a look at Kadima four years after it came into existence:
Kadima was the result of the "big bang" in Israeli politics, the attempt to create a political center strong enough to end the occupation through the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Ariel Sharon had made the first move by withdrawing unilaterally from Gaza in the summer of 2005. Forming Kadima a few months later was part of a grand plan for a similar pullback from the West Bank.
On taking over from Sharon, Ehud Olmert pledged to set Israel's permanent borders by 2010. But the war against Hizballah in the summer of 2006 and Hamas rocket fire from Gaza put an end to Kadima's unilateralist ideology. Instead, Kadima under Olmert and Livni spoke of the urgent need for a two-state deal with the Palestinians by agreement. And once they dropped unilateralism, Sharon's main calling card, their peace policy was no different from that of the left. …
Ten months after the [February 2009] election, the "Dash syndrome" seemed to be setting in: the disintegration of a centrist party lacking ideological glue to keep it together. Dash — or the Democratic Movement for Change - was formed in 1976 and won a startling 15 seats in the ensuing election, only to split three ways two years later. The same kind of thing happened with Yitzhak Mordechai's Center Party (1999-2003) and Tommy Lapid's Shinui (1999-2006).
Nov. 28, 2011 update: Otniel Schneller, a Knesset member for Kadima, says that "Kadima has moved to the left side and is on its way to disappearing from the political map." That is because, of a lack of "moral rectitude in the way the party conducts itself. In addition there are investigations, the treasurer is under arrest." Second, "Kadima enforces thoughts," noting how Kadima parliamentarians were instructed to vote against bills co-sponsored by Kadima members.
Jan. 1, 2012 update: David Hazony opines:
The demise of Kadima. It's been a fun ride, but Kadima's days as the main opposition party are over. The party that was founded on the strength of Ariel Sharon's personality, and his determination to withdraw from the Gaza Strip over his own Likud party's objections, found unexpected life after Sharon's departure for a simple reason: There are hundreds of thousands of Israelis on the left who, despite having abandoned the peace camp in light of the second intifada, nonetheless could never stomach voting for Likud. That was enough to give Kadima a huge mandate despite having no clear ideology, charismatic leadership, governing experience or (post-disengagement) clear policies. That grace period is over.
Jan. 3, 2012 update: Avigdor Yitzchaki, a co-founder of Kadima, thinks that party head Tzipi Livni "has brought Kadima to the verge of collapse" and wants the party to break up and start over again: "This thing has to be destroyed and rebuilt."
Mar. 1, 2012 update: Eetta Prince-Gibson, a former editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Report, gives a scathing review of Yair Lapid's new political party and in the process, she recalls several earlier "messianic" parties:
- In 1977, IDF chief of staff-turned-archeologist Yigael Yadin promised to save the country from the corrupt Labor groups that had brought us the Yom Kippur War. In its first election, his party, Dash, won 15 of the 120 seats in the Knesset. In its second election, it won no seats and disappeared from politics.
- In 1984, charismatic and macho former Commander of the Air Force, General Ezer Weizman, promised to redeem us from the fiasco of the first Lebanon War. The party he created lasted less than a term.
- In 1992, Rafael Eitan, known primarily as the incompetent IDF chief of staff who had led that first Lebanon War, won eight seats for his Tzomet party, running on an anti-corruption and anti-ultra-Orthodox platform. By 1999, his party was defunct.
- In 2003, TV journalist Tommy Lapid [Yair's father], whose charming public persona combined Central European elegance with Archie Bunker-like tact, created a new party, Shinui ("Change"), which won 15 seats; by 2008 it had evaporated.
"These parties," she comments, "burned out because they were opportunistic and lacked substance. Their leaders rode in like saviors-on-demand, promoting lowest-common-denominator politics."
July 17, 2012 update: On the occasion of the exit of Kadima from the government after a brief alliance with the Likud-led coalition, Danny Danon of Likud opined that "Kadima is an empty shell with no ideological core and will soon disappear from the Israeli political landscape."
Dec. 6, 2012 update: In a scathing piece, "Born in sin, dying in disgrace," Dan Margalit goes after the dying Kadima party, which is expected to win not a single seat in the forthcoming Jan. 22 elections (after winning a plurality of votes in the 2009 elections).
There has always been a cloud of suspicion hovering over Kadima due to the repeated allegations of white-collar crimes. No other party has had so many of its officials go to jail, and there are more on the way. The party gave Israel the reckless Gaza Disengagement Plan in 2005 without first reaching a deal with the Palestinians. … As the governing party, it was justified in launching the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09, but its handling of both was disastrous. The party was born in sin and buried in disgrace. No one is mourning its loss.
Jan. 24, 2013 update: Kadima won two seats in updated results for the Jan. 22 elections and is nearly defunct. It took longer than expected (six years) but the collapse was as what I predicted in 2005 - that Kadima "will (1) fall about as abruptly as it has arisen and (2) leave behind a meager legacy."
But hope springs eternal and Yair Lapid won a more-than-expected 19 seats, giving his Yesh Atid party the second largest bloc of seats in the new parliament. It could last because it's less a "third way" vis-à-vis the Arabs than a party focused on economics. We shall see.
Mar. 18, 2015 update: Israel went to the polls yesterday and Kadima disappeared without a trace, eliminated from parliament and forgotten by commentators. It lasted nearly ten years, which I admit is longer than I expected. But its evaporation fulfills my prediction.