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Livni As Israel’s Obama

Not long ago, I wrote an article in which I briefly compared Israel’s two political contenders, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. As a drama is heating up in the aftermath of Livni’s 431-votes victory, I thought I’d expand a bit on that theme. From the earlier article:

[T]he focus is on the primaries in which two candidates are vying for the leadership of the Kadima Party. One is a woman, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. The other is the “dark-skinned candidate,” Transportation Minister and former Defense Minister and military chief of staff Shaul Mofaz, a member of the Sephardic Jewish diaspora, none of whose members has ever been prime minister.

But Livni is no Hillary Clinton-she’s the more dovish of the two candidates, and she would not be Israel’s first woman prime minister; Golda Meir played that role almost 40 years ago. And Mofaz is no Barack Obama. He has a lot of experience, is more hawkish, and the group of Sephardic Jews he belongs to-Mofaz was born in Iran-is not a minority in Israel.

So: Livni is no Clinton. Livni, in many important ways, is Israel’s Obama. Consider this: Livni has not only the most dovish image of all the candidates, but is also, like Obama, the candidate most acceptable to the international community. As Foreign Minister, she’s less involved in warmaking and more in peacemaking. Thus it is easier for her to be seen as someone who has a genuine interest in the promotion of peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. For similar reasons, the Clintons wanted Ehud Barak in office, not Binyamin Netanyahu. It’s quite reasonable to assume that Condi Rice wanted her good friend Livni to win.

Livni has gained popularity with a message familiar to the American voter of 2008. “We proved there is a different kind of politics,” she told her supporters early this morning. Livni is Israel’s Ms. Clean. She can’t stress experience as her strength, because she’s not experienced (by Israeli standards). She has no clear agenda, or easily-defined world view with which to woo the voters. In fact, most of them can hardly distinguish between Livni and the other candidates. The only difference is that Livni is “new,” “fresh,” “a woman,” “clean.” She’s not a member of the Old Boys’ Club.

Similar to Obama, Livni (again, we’re talking about Israeli standards here) is a political meteor. Eight years ago she was still the anonymous head of the Government Companies’ Authority, and in the last seven years she has filled five ministerial posts. This serves her well in two ways: when she wants to stress her experience she mentions the number of posts she’s filled. When she wants to stress the need for stability–namely, a coalition without election–she emphasizes the haste with which she was moved from one ministry to the other. Livni, like Obama, is also very popular with the public–but it’s not really clear why. The public barely knows her, and there’s good reason to suspect that this ultimately works for her. She’s not yet identified with the profession-guild of which she’s a member.

Sadly, the political negotiations she’ll have to conduct now, with the prospective members of her new coalition, might erode this advantage in no time.



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