Supporters of MK Shaul Mofaz met for the first time Tuesday to discuss strategy to wrest leadership of Kadima from party chairwoman MK Tzipi Livni in the upcoming primary. Kadima found itself split down the middle, as MKs Ruhama Avraham Balila and Yohanan Plesner came out for Mofaz, joining MKs Zeev Bielski, Ronit Tirosh and Arie Bibi, who had announced their choice on Monday.
Plesner had been a Livni supporter, and had been the chairman of her campaign for head of Kadima at the time.
Avraham Balila had supported Mofaz when he first ran against Livni for party chairman in 2008, but after Livni won, she supported her.
One MK said at the meeting that Mofaz was "a new candidate who can bring new audiences," adding "Shelly also started with a few [Knesset] seats according to the polls and ended her campaign with 22," he said, referring to Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich, who became chairwoman of the Labor Party in the primary.
Although the final decision is up to Kadima's members when they go to the polls on March 27, Tuesday's meeting is seen as likely to increase momentum for Mofaz, who when he first ran for party chairman in 2008, garnered only meager support from MKs.
If the battle between the two leaders is characterized by personal recriminations and mud-slinging, it could lead to a split in the party after the primary.
People in Livni's inner circle said they were not worried about garnering support for Livni when the time came. "Tzipi Livni will win the primary and keep Kadima as the only alternative to a Netanyahu government, and this or that Knesset member, with all due respect, will not change that," a person close to the Kadima chairwoman said.
A source in Kadima also said: "MKs did not support Mofaz, but rather went shopping to see what they were being offered. Anyone who supports splitting the party supports Mofaz. The senior members of the party support Livni."
Plesner, who is expected to be given a key role in Mofaz's primary campaign, reportedly told Livni that while he appreciated her work, he believed that under the circumstances, Mofaz must be given a chance to move the party forward.
Avraham Balila, who is believed to command widespread grass-roots support, wrote Livni: "This decision was not made on a personal basis, but rather out of considerations involving the movement and out of the belief that this is the change needed to bring Kadima back to a position of influence over the character of Israeli society."
She also wrote that she was "certain that all the other MKs who support your candidacy will have a central role in uniting the party after the primary."
Livni has the support of 12 MKs - Roni Bar-On, Marina Solodkin, Yoel Hasson, Gideon Ezra, Nachman Shai, Shlomo Molla, Robert Tiviaev, Majallie Whbee, Rachel Adatto, Orit Zuaretz, Nino Abesadze and Doron Avital.
Tzachi Hanegbi, who is the chairman of the party's committee for party affairs, also declared his support for Livni, as did the chairman of Kadima's council, Haim Ramon.
The other MKs supporting Mofaz are Shai Hermesh, MK Avi Duan (who replaced MK Eli Aflalo, who left the Knesset to become joint chairman of the Jewish National Fund ), Otniel Schneller, Yulia Shamalov Berkovich, and Israel Hasson.
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