About 10 years ago, when Shaul Mofaz was chief of staff, an Ashkenazi politician mentioned Mofaz's Mizrahi ethnicity in an effort to refute claims that government institutions discriminate against Israelis from Muslim countries. Immediately afterward, Mofaz was said to have expressed surprise at the reference to his ethnic origin. The comment was just right: It conveyed self-respect and restraint, as well as contempt for the ugly dispute. It was as though Mofaz were saying: "I'm above these matters, I'm an Israeli, and I'd appreciate it if you, the politicians, wouldn't bring my name into this debate."
But when Mofaz the politician - now running to lead the Kadima party and ultimately the country - took off his uniform, he also dropped his aloof, reserved attitude toward the ethnic debate. This time it was Mofaz himself who ignited the flames, authorizing his staff over the past few days to fan them. In doing so, Mofaz has proven one of two things: Either that a Mizrahi youth gripped by feelings of discrimination was behind the image of the salt-of-the-earth Israeli soldier and officer all along, or that he is a disciplined subordinate to the media consultants who maliciously recommended that he resurrect the ethnic demon.
For Mofaz's sake, one has to assume that the second possibility is correct, because this country cannot be led by someone motivated by feelings of discrimination, who doesn't feel comfortable in the company of his Ashkenazi colleagues and considers himself an outsider in the government. Still, if this summoning of the ethnic demon stemmed not from Mofaz's inner world but from his campaign advisers' cynical considerations, his assent to their plans indicates he is not endowed with the attributes a prime minister needs.
Prime ministers are expected to be intelligent and firm, to have their own inner truth and the ability to stick to their guns and look to the future. Whoever advised Mofaz to press the ethnic button, like whoever advised him to announce he would win today with 43.7 percent of the vote, is not a wise campaign strategist. And the person who adopted these recommendations and put them into practice is not a mature politician and certainly not fit to run matters of state.
Politicians are judged by their conduct, their positions and the way they function. Mofaz's political conduct, especially in the current election campaign, has revealed a person with no particular agenda and a cynic with no defined moral code whose most conspicuous characteristic is ambition. He jumped from the Israel Defense Forces to Likud before the cooling-off period ended, and from Likud to Kadima. To win support in the primary, he used the despicable practices of Labor Party predecessor Mapai and the Likud Central Committee, and never spoke out against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's corrupt behavior. Mofaz's positions are not fully formed and he is not identified with any particular political path or social doctrine (he was both for and against the disengagement, and for and against the prisoner swap that freed Israeli businessman Elhanan Tennenbaum).
As a cabinet member and minister - defense minister and transportation minister - Mofaz has not displayed impressive operational ability or analytical skill. He initiated the distribution of gas masks during the American attack on Iraq in 2003; he played a role in the IDF's degeneration, as demonstrated during the Second Lebanon War; and he has made impassioned threats targeting Iran. Mofaz's 43.7-percent prediction means that any deviation from that forecast renders him a politician whose words cannot be trusted and whose predictions should be discounted.
At the same time, Mofaz is positioning himself as someone willing to meet Shas' demands on child allowances, which is opposed by almost the entire political system - making the issue an obstacle to forming the next coalition.
For all these reasons, Shaul Mofaz is not fit - for now, at least - to lead the country. Since Meir Sheetrit and Avi Dichter have no real chance of winning the Kadima primary, Tzipi Livni is the obvious winner. She isn't a perfect choice, but she is clearly better than her main rival. Onward Livni - kadima.
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