Kadima's Big Bang

A new center.

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To what extent did the creation of Kadima reflect this dynamic?

Kadima's official platform leading up to the 2006 election combined traditional rightwing rhetoric--the Jewish people's right to the undivided Land of Israel--with pragmatic policies on peace and security: a negotiated settlement and the creation of a Palestinian state. Yet this leftist tendency was matched by a unilateralist and expansionist agenda more reminiscent of traditional Likud attitudes. Then party leader Ehud Olmert stated that if negotiations did not progress, Israel would unilaterally withdraw to permanent borders by 2010. Isolated settlements and outposts would be dismantled, but Israel would annex the large settlement blocs in Ariel, Gush Etzion, and around Jerusalem--as well as a security zone in the Jordan valley.

On social and economic issues the Kadima platform was similarly equivocal. It opened by describing dangerous social divisions in Israeli society, highlighting the phenomenon of growing poverty and inequality and the erosion of living standards relative to western countries. Alongside the poor, the platform promised to defend the middle class, the elderly, residents of outlying areas, women, and minorities. Ehud Olmert declared that Kadima's policies would reflect the economics of compassion (a stand that has been attacked by the Left who argue that the poor deserve justice, not philanthropy). Yet the platform went on to state that the free market--albeit not a "jungle" or free-for-all--is the best means for overcoming these problems. This means cutting public spending, accelerating privatization, maintaining low-inflation, fighting unemployment by creating incentives to work, and streamlining the benefits system. Here, social-democratic language was combined with neo-liberal economics.

The platform also contained a long section on educational policy, emphasizing that reforms must be carried out through partnership and consensus (a swipe at the Likud whose recent attempts to overhaul the educational system were shelved after a long battle with the teachers' unions). On issues of religion and state, Kadima implicitly endorses the status quo and rules out sweeping reforms, while encouraging the Chief Rabbinate to take a more flexible stand on conversion and promising a solution to people who are prevented from marrying under current legal arrangements.

Big Bang or Damp Squib?

In certain respects, then, the emergence of Kadima seemed to reflect the ideological transformation of Israeli politics. Instead of a principled position on the classic debate over the Territories, Kadima advanced a pragmatic solution to the conflict with the Palestinians, based on historic leftist principles but clothed in rightwing sentiment and rhetoric.

The fact that the bulk of Kadima's platform was taken up not with military and diplomatic questions but with social, economic and educational issues was also indicative of this shift. Yet rather than engaging honestly in debate over Israel's future in these areas, Kadima sought to smooth over controversy and offer up a menu which would be to everyone's taste. Hence the synthesis of rightwing economics with social concern, of commitment to the religious establishment with consideration for those who suffer at its hands.

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Matt Plen

Matt Plen is the Chief Executive of Masorti Judaism in the UK. He has taught and trained educators in diverse institutions in Israel, the UK and the USA and is currently researching his doctorate on Critical Pedagogy and Jewish Ideologies of Social Justice.