The Real World: ’Tsipi, King of Israel’

Date: 10-31-2008 | Category: Articles, Middle East

The Real World: ’Tsipi, King of Israel’


It is an Israeli thing. When a politician, say Ehud Barak, running for the office of prime minister appears at a public event, the crowd will often chant, "Ehud, King of Israel." It is a takeoff on the traditional song, "David, King of Israel," sung on Jewish holidays and celebrations.

This innocuous habit is at least 40 years old. Supporters have sung "Arik [Sharon], King of Israel," or "Yitzhak [Rabin], King of Israel" at past rallies and bar mitzvahs.

Tel Aviv literati often frown on the practice as a low-brow expression of populism, but when a video surfaced of Tsipi Livni dancing at a supporter’s wedding, replete with Kadima invitees breaking out in "Tsipi, King of Israel," the absurdity and irony of her prime ministerial bid appeared in high relief.

In gender-specific Hebrew, she may be a "queen," but hardly a "king." The same goes for politics.

While Livni’s Kadima party enjoys a small lead over Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud for the moment, Livni lacks the track record, credentials and charisma to lead the embattled Jewish state.

She is buoyed by sympathetic, left-leaning media and her refusal to cut a deal with the Orthodox Shas party, which mostly represents the Jews from Arab lands and its founder, former Chief Rabbi Ovadia Joseph.

However, as Israel, with its high-tech exporting economy and tourism, faces the global economic crisis, the Hamas terrorist mini-state in Gaza, and an intransigent Palestinian Liberation Organization administration in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), Livni is an unlikely leader for the troubled times ahead.

First, she lacks the military credentials other leaders, such as Netanyahu and Labor’s Ehud Barak, bring to the table. Israel is technically still led by Ehud Olmert, a prime minister who displayed his disastrous lack of understanding of military strategy and tactics in the 2006 Hezbollah war and who has allowed Hamas in Gaza to grow up in strength.

Livni is part and parcel of the Olmert cabinet. As foreign minister, she pushed for U.N. Resolution 1701, which allowed Hezbollah to enjoy immunity in Lebanon and proceed with an unprecedented rearmament thanks to Iran and Syria.

Livni, who started out in the Likud, but left with Sharon to form Kadima, moved further left after Sharon suffered a stroke. She agreed to most demands presented to Israel in the negotiations by the feeble Palestinian Authority, crossing red lines repeatedly.

She now theoretically agrees to relinquishing more than 92 percent of the West Bank, including areas vital to Israel’s defense. She also would countenance handing over East Jerusalem to the PLO and negotiating over the "return" of Palestinians refugees into pre-1967 Israel.

Olmert and Livni have agreed to indirect negotiations with Syria over the conditions for hand-over of the Golan Heights, a strategically vital piece of land which commands the high ground over the Galilee as well as over one-third of Israel’s water.

A Mossad trainee who was let go for a disciplinary violation, Livni was pulled out of obscurity by Netanyahu. She double-crossed him when she left the Likud with Sharon and now courts the influential "Russian vote" which could yield as many as 18-20 Knesset mandates out of the total of 120.

As a part of this effort, she has promised to introduce legislation allowing civil marriages in Israel. Such a step, while desirable for many non-Jewish Russian speakers and others who cannot be married in religious ceremonies, is potentially highly divisive and could bring the fragile Israeli social status quo on the brink of civil strife.

Mounting corruption charges finally led to Olmert’s resignation, and Livni is capitalizing on the fact that no accusations have been made against her. But staying free of the taint of corruption may not be enough to win her the elections.

A wily politician, Livni appeals to primarily to peacenik, politically correct, left-leaning and educated Tel Aviv voters; secular Ashkenazim (Jews of European descent), and professional women.

That’s been enough for her to give Netanyahu and Barak a run for their money so far. She also would be much more palatable to a potential Obama White House than would the prickly Netanyahu, who despite his willingness to give up the Golan in 1999 is often depicted as a hawk.

However, Livni has not held any significant economic post in the Israel government. Nor can she match Netanyahu’s sterling and internationally recognized credentials as a free market economic reformer. Running as a candidate of "peace" and "change" may just not be enough.

King of Israel she is not – whatever her supporters are chanting.


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