Political Cannibalism

Israeli political parties eat each other. Sometimes it is just a nibble here and a nibble there – one or another Knesset member who has been enticed to cross party lines. At other times it is a more serious bite.


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on December 29, 2009.)

This is a unique Israeli phenomenon. To the best of my knowledge it is unknown anywhere else in the democratic world. Israeli political parties eat each other. Sometimes it is just a nibble here and a nibble there – one or another Knesset member who has been enticed to cross party lines. At other times it is a more serious bite. But sometimes it is a whole mouthful, leaving little more than the skeleton of the political party that has been subjected to the cannibal’s bite. Watching this spectacle we are reminded of the song “Had Gadya” about the cat that ate the goat, and the dog that ate the cat that ate the goat, and so on. Or the song about the old lady who swallowed a fly, and then swallowed a spider to catch the fly.

The origin of this feasting on your political rival’s flesh goes back to our former prime minister Ariel Sharon, who decided to disregard the majority vote of his Likud party against his plan to uproot Israeli settlements, left his party and established a new one. Adopting the outlandish name Kadima, he proceeded to harvest personalities from Likud and the Labor Party, sprinkling the list of Knesset candidates, chosen solely by him, with additional people without prior political experience who were arbitrarily parachuted onto the list.

By the time this cannibalistic feast was over, leading members of Likud, including some who had functioned until the last minute as heads of Likud institutions, as well as those who had sworn that they would never leave their “home” in the party, were catapulted onto the Kadima list. Likud was no more than a shadow of its former self.

A similar fate awaited the Labor Party. At election time it became clear that Kadima had cannibalized Israel’s two major parties. Sharon, benefiting from the irresistible charm of the political penitent who admits his past mistakes, the foremost advocate of settlements in Judea, Samaria and Gaza who now proceeded to uproot settlements, gained the support of the left, who were now convinced that only Sharon could implement their program while attaching to his coattails many of his former followers from the right.

But where was this brand new party going to lead Israel once the disengagement had been accomplished? To additional uprooting of settlements in Judea and Samaria as promised by Ehud Olmert, the leader who replaced Sharon? To a return to the 1967 lines? Their Knesset faction, including people from right and left, provided no coherent answers, while the Kadima leadership led Israel to a defeat in the Second Lebanon War and permitted civilians in the south to be blasted by Hamas rockets launched from the Gaza Strip for almost three years. This pitiful record brought about the next chapter of political cannibalism.

In the recent elections, Kadima, knowing that it had lost voters on the right, decided to swing leftward, taking another hefty bite out of the Labor Party while itself suffering a similar fate as Likud. That party, now adopting one of the former Kadima MKs, recaptured most of the votes it had lost to Kadima in the previous election. But the cannibalistic feast did not to stop there. After the elections, Kadima MKs, predicting that their party had a limited life expectancy, began looking for escape hatches and ways to move to other parties.

It was the inescapable fate awaiting a party composed of a hodgepodge of MKs promoting no coherent ideas and lacking any party tradition and loyalty among its leaders and members. Their leaders’ complaints that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in enticing Kadima MKs to leave Kadima was acting unethically, sound pathetic and hollow – some even had the nerve to claim that he was acting unlawfully. Finding themselves in desperate straits they seem to have forgotten the old adage that people in glass houses should not throw stones.

All this does not seem to bode well for the Kadima party, which instead of moving forward seems to be moving backward. It was founded to promote a fresh idea – unilateral disengagement – which very quickly turned sour. Unlike the traditional political parties on the right and left, it lacks a hard core of long-time members who are loyal to the party. That is, after all, what keeps a political party together, through thick and thin.

Translate »