Likud Party Star, Moshe Kahlon, Exits the Stage

Former Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon, darling of the Likud party, announces a surprise break from political life, leaving his fellow politicians surprised and speculating.

Zvi Zrahiya
Zvi Zrahiya
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Zvi Zrahiya
Zvi Zrahiya

The Knesset exit of Likud MK Moshe Kahlon, who juggled joint posts as minister of communications and minister of welfare and social services, has created a plethora of questions and speculations as well as a fount of disappointment.

But it has also prompted a few hidden smiles from the folks who hope they might profit from the departure of one of the Likud's most beloved politicians. After all, before his surprise ankling from Israel's house of parliament, Kahlon was trumpeted as a potential candidate for finance minister in the next government.

But it seems his finance minister dreams, and those of any senior ministerial position, were dashed. At least, that's the word on the street among Likud officials, who are chalking up this rising star's exit to a huff of personal disappointment after being passed over by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Over the past year, Kahlon's name was tossed around as a potential finance minister candidate thanks to his background in social action and his work in the communications ministry. But the winds of politics are fickle, and his luck seems to have changed. One senior Likud official surmised that Netanyahu and current Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz may have felt threatened by Kahlon's success, and were wary that he would, in a sense, steal the show.

For now, Steinitz can relax. Kahlon will not be replacing him in this term or the next. Senior Likud ministers such as Gideon Sa’ar and Gilad Erdan, who also were uneasy with Kahlon's widespread public support, can breathe easy too. A serious competitor has dropped out of the race.

But they shouldn’t let their guards down for too long. Likud officials believe that Kahlon will be back, and that he may even angle for head of the party once Netanyahu has left the building.

Netanyahu did not want Kahlon to step down – officials say that he was willing to guarantee him almost any position in the next government in order to keep him on board – but Kahlon must not have received the promise in time.

“In the end, his success was his downfall, because many people, including senior people in the party, are afraid of him,” a senior Likud official said of Kahlon.

Another theory holds that Kahlon feared he would end up on a “hit list” because of those very successes, and did not want to sink to a low slot on the party’s Knesset list. In the last party primary, which was held at the end of 2008, Kahlon dipped to fourth place. In the party primary in 2006, he held the very first slot.

Some say that Kahlon was tapped for a high-ranking business position with a tycoon, but his colleagues were quick to counter that assumption. And when it comes to the idea that he was offered a spot in the rival Labor party, one close associate said, "Kahlon is currently not laboring over anything."

An exit, not a resignation

During a Likud faction meeting earlier this week, Kahlon made it clear that he was not shutting the door completely.

“I announced that I would not be running in the elections, but I am not resigning from the Likud," he said. "I am taking a break to continue working for the Likud’s success. I want to be part of a system that creates change in the government. There is a lot to fix.”

Kahlon and Netanyahu arrived at the meeting together. After making his announcement, Kahlon was approached by ministers, MKs and activists, all of whom shook his hand and embraced him. He smiled and seemed emotional.

"I'm sorry if anyone is disappointed," he said to the party faithful. "I was always part of you. I’ll keep on being a part of you and you’ll be a part of me.”

And while he is now off the ticket, Kahlon has pledged to still play an active part in the upcoming elections. “I’ll be part of the campaign, explain the Likud platform and work to make sure the party continues to lead the State of Israel," he said.

His words for the Likud party and its work showed only warm feelings.

“This government is the most socially conscious one I’ve known in the 10 years I’ve been here," Kahlon said. "Since it was established, the prime minister, all the ministers and I have been working together to promote structural reforms for the good of Israel's citizens. I grew up in the Likud, and I was taught about its social and political values, as well as its commitment to Israel's security. I believe in these values. They are the values of a free economy, of job creation, of technological innovation. They are the values of opening the market, not closing it. This is the path of social justice. There is no middle way. I hope that this government, led by

Netanyahu, will be elected next time and will continue with its reforms."
The party does not seem ready to let Kahlon slip away so easily. Netanyahu said the two were in talks, and he may still be able to convince him to come back. Chairman of the Economic Affairs Committee MK Carmel Shama Hacohen went so far as to post Kahlon's telephone number on his own Facebook page so the public can send texts imploring him to return.

"If he hears from 100,000 people, he will change his mind," Shama Hacohen wrote on the page.

Kahlon’s resignation has left a social-justice void in the Likud. In the upcoming elections, Netanyahu had intended to trump Kahlon and his accomplishments as social justice minister. As one of only two Mizrahi ministers in the government and the product of a hard-knock upbringing, he was the literally ideal poster child of an Israeli success story. Likud officials had hoped to put him on their campaign ads.

Now, Netanyahu, who called upon his ministers last year to “be Kahlons,” will have to point to Kahlon’s accomplishments without Kahlon, and find a new “star of social justice.”

Those close to Kahlon said he is at peace with his exit, and that he will come back in a few years after using the time off to strengthen his position. They also said that he has no plans to reverse his decision, despite the pleas from many around him to stay.

Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich said she was sorry to see Kahlon go, calling him "an excellent minister whose heart was in the right place, with a deep commitment to the general public in Israel." She also was quick to strike at his party, saying that Kahlon's departure highlighted “the transformation of the Likud, which was supposed to a party in the service of the people, into a capitalist party whose leader abuses its citizens.”

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin admitted that Kahlon's exit was a blow. But, he added, “the Likud is stronger than its parts. Kahlon should be one of the Likud’s spokesmen, as a man who is outside the party primary.”

During a Likud faction meeting earlier this week, Kahlon made it clear that he was not shutting the door on politics completely.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

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