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Israel: Mofaz Derided for Joining Unity Government

Israel's biggest news story of recent months happened in the early hours of May 8: the head of the opposition and new chairman of the centrist Kadima party, Shaul Mofaz, agreed to join Benjamin Netanyahu's government, thus postponing the early elections Netanyahu had announced just days before.

The new unity government has 94 members out of 120 members of the Knesset. In exchange for joining the government, Mofaz was promised the title of a Minister Without Portfolio for the (non-existent) peace process with the Palestinians.

The surprising news came as the Israeli public was gearing up for early elections on September 4. The unity government is designed to ensure that the Netanyahu government will remain in power for the next 15 months, and will make it the first government in decades in Israel to complete its full term. Mofaz, who had at first insisted he would never join Netanyahu's government, was apparently worried about taking part in elections since all the polls predicted his party would greatly diminish in power.

Shaul Mofaz. Image posted on Flickr by Tzipi Livni (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Israelis turned to Twitter, Facebook and blogs to comment on the surprising news. Many of them referred to Mofaz's harsh criticism of Netanyahu up until the moment he entered the government under Netanyahu's leadership. For example, on March 3, Mofaz's official Facebook page posted:

תקשיבו טוב: אני לא אכנס לממשלה של ביבי. לא היום. לא מחר ולא אחרי שאעמוד בראשות קדימה ב-28 במארס. זו ממשה רעה, כושלת ואטומה וקדימה בראשותי תחליף אותה בבחירות הבאות. מספיק ברור?
Listen to me closely: I will not enter Bibi's [Netanyahu's] government. Not today. Not tomorrow and not after I head Kadima on March 28 [at the time he was competing against Tzipi Livni for the leadership of the party]. This is a bad and failed government that doesn't listen to the people, and Kadima under my leadership will replace it in the next elections. Is that clear enough?

Israeli journalist Tal Schneider wrote on her blog about the winners and losers of this deal. Listing Mofaz as a loser, she explained:

שאול מופז – התדמית הציבורית שלו תפגע קשות בעקבות ההחלטה להיכנס לממשלה עם שותף פוליטי אותו כינה לא מזמן “שקרן”. מופז בונה על הטמטום של ציבור הבוחרים, על הזכרון החלש של האנשים. אבל אחרי שהבטיח שהוא יוביל את המחאה של הקיץ, החלטתו הלילה להיכנס לממשלה הופכת אותו לקטן שבקטנים.
Shaul Mofaz's public image will be greatly harmed because of his decision to enter the government with a political partner he recently called a “liar”. Mofaz is counting on the stupidity of the voters, on the weak memory of the population. But after he had promised to lead the social protests during the summer, his decision tonight to enter the government makes him the smallest of the small.

Leading leftist blogger Yossi Gurvits commented on the implications of this move for the Kadima party:

Kadima, a party whose motto may well have been, “We took corruption out of Likud (and brought it to a new home),” also seems to be finished. Why would anyone vote for it again? During the 2009 elections, Livni managed to con the voters into believing she would prevent a Netanyahu government. Livni is out of office, but the party is now in Netanyahu’s lap. If Kadima was looking at 10 seats before Mofaz’s latest schtick, it has now sunk near the level of Ehud Barak’s Atzmaut party (which polls at zero seats).

Dr. Yuval Dror, a widely-read Israeli blogger, wrote:

מופז הוא ג'לי פוליטי: חסר צורה, חסר טעם, ריח או עמוד שדרה, תוצר של יועצים פוליטיים השמים בפיו משפטים ועמדות. הוא האפס הפוליטי המוחלט.
ב-2 לפנות בוקר, כנחש מתחת לקש, חתם האפס הפוליטי המוחלט על עסקה עם אותו שקרן כדי לקבל משרת שר ללא תיק, כדי להציל את עורו ואת עור חבריו ולתת להם עוד שנה וחצי ממנעמי השלטון. כניסתו של מופז לממשלה הפכה את ממשלת ישראל לממשלה הכי צינית בתולדותיה…
Mofaz is a political jello: shapeless, tasteless, spineless, a product of political advisers who put words in his mouth and tell him which positions to take. He is the complete political zero [meaning: worthless, pathetic].
At 2 AM, like a snake coming from under the hay, this complete political zero signed a deal with the same liar [Mofaz recently called Netanyahu a liar] to get the position of a Minister Without a Portfolio, to save his skin and the skin of his friends [Kadima members of the Knesset] and give them another year and a half of the benefits of government. The entry of Mofaz into the Government of Israel has made it the most cynical government in its history…

Amir Schiby posted this altered campaign banner for Mofaz, which in a few hours was shared on Facebook over 1,500 times:

Mock campaign banner. Image posted by Amir Schiby on Facebook.

The text reads:

Mofaz. Because everyone can piss from the springboard [Israeli saying that means showing complete disregard]. Shitting from it [on the public] is art.

Minister's chair. Image posted by Gil Osser on Facebook.

Gil Osser posted an image of a chair, with the text:

An unprecedented sale for members of the Kadima party:

Minister's Chair*

An orthopedic chair made of elephant skin, particularly suitable for the spineless. The chair moves forward [Kadima], backward, right and left and can be found in various colors.

Price: Principles | Payment method: 15 months [the length of time this government will remain in power thanks to the deal]

*The same model sold to members of HaAtzmaut Party in 2011.

Noy Alooshe, the Israeli musician behind Gaddafi's “Zenga Zenga” remix, produced a new remix of footage in which Mofaz proclaims Netanyahu is a liar:

While the overwhelming majority of reactions online were negative, blogger Tal Yaron disagreed. Yaron mentioned the agreement between Mofaz and Netanyahu, which stipulates that the new coalition will pass a law to draft the ultra-Orthodox to military/community service (which they're currently exempt from) and to institute changes in Israel's electoral system:

רבים מגנים את השינוי, אך אם אכן יקוימו שתי הבטחות אלו בלבד, הרי שהדבר יביא לשינוי משמעותי בחברה הישראלית. בעקבות הקואליציה החדשה שנוצרה, יש כיום רוב לגיוס חרדים. הליכוד+ישראל ביתינו+קדימה מהווים קואליציה של לפחות 70 חברי כנסת שיוכלו להעביר את החוק.
גם העברת חוק שינוי שיטת הבחירות יטיב עם מצבה של ישראל, בכך שיביא להקטנת כמות המפלגות המשתתפות במשחק הפוליטי ויגרום למירכוז השיח הפוליטי, להגברת המשילות ולהקטנת ההקצנה.
Many condemn this change, but even if only these two promises are kept, they will result in a significant change in Israeli society. As a result of the newly formed coalition, there is not a majority to enlist the ultra-Orthodox. Likud plus Yisrael Beiteinu [Lieberman's party] plus Kadima form a coalition of at least 70 members of the Knesset who can pass this law.
Changing Israel's electoral system will also improve Israel's situation, by reducing the number of political parties and centralizing the political discourse in Israel, increasing the ability to govern and reducing extremism.

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