Kadima's Contracting Agency

Former Shas MK Itzhak Gagula once said: "Shas is a democratic movement. Other parties have a managing body or a central committee, and we have a council of sages that decides." The way in which Kadima is preparing to elect its new leader makes Shas look like a paragon of democracy by comparison. During this primary campaign, Kadima has seen an organization that acts like a vote contractor rise within its midst. It plans on delivering some 70,000 disciplined, registered party members to the polls, where they will receive instructions whom to elect as the party's candidate for prime minister.

Kadima is taking its first steps toward crystallizing into a formidable party, and already it is injecting into its veins a drug that will stunt its growth before it has even had a chance to get off the ground. Without holding itself accountable, the party is laying its foundations atop a marshy swamp. Instead of ushering in a new era in Israeli politics, and rather than present itself as a movement that holds within it the energy to foment change and right some wrongs, Kadima has adopted a modus operandi more suited to the Likud Central Committee and the moldy corridors of the Labor Party. This party apparatus, which has yet to take on its final shape, is being nurtured by groups who resort to strong-armed tactics and who wish to sully the party's image, if not ruin it completely.

The brand of democracy Kadima is establishing within its ranks is a cynical joke: vote speculators are enlisted to provide services to this soft party. In years past, one could easily notice them or people of their ilk during election campaigns within other parties. This is their stock in trade: they bring voters to the polls. Their motives vary, for they do not commit themselves to any ideological path nor are they loyal to any individual. They certainly don't feel obliged by civic duty.

The battle currently being waged in Kadima is for the support of the heads of the various local workers' councils, the municipal authorities, and the heads of the clans in the Arab sector. People of such stature are believed to be capable of inducing tens of thousands of others to register for party membership and to vote for a particular candidate as its chairman.

This approach makes a mockery of the general public, from which potential party supporters can supposedly be drawn. Its mindset stems from the working assumption that there is no point in appealing for the general public's support, that there is no place for presenting alternative viewpoints on the candidates, that it would be superfluous to hold any kind of dialogue concerning the state's needs. Rather, this approach believes it is preferable to focus on the 50-60 key individuals who have the power to instruct tens of thousands of registered members the party pretends to represent how to vote.

This despicable conduct is portrayed as the cleanest, most elementary form of democracy in that it allows all the party's members to pick its leader rather than leaving the task to a group of middlemen like the central committee or politburo. In actuality, Kadima is revealing an infuriating practice which falsely brandishes the word "democracy": the primary elections will not be free and open, in the original sense of the term, but rather a takeover by a few organized groups of picking a party leader.

Organized voting drives are common in the Arab and ultra-Orthodox sectors, and the wider public considers them a negative custom that is difficult to change. This phenomenon has also gained tractions in the kibbutz sector (Meretz's party primary), Likud, and the Labor Party. What was once thought of as the moral decay of aging parties or the fixation of a few highly conservative communities is now receiving an ironclad stamp of approval as a legitimate practice within Kadima, a party just recently formed. Vote contractors are openly courted and it goes without saying that this practice has become the basis of the primary process. The lone voter is the one pushed aside.

This is a distortion of proper democratic procedure, which rests on the voter exercising his will and selecting a candidate to represent him, while the candidates in turn assume obligations during their tenure: the ministers accept the authority of the prime minister and the government to which they belong; the government is bound by an obligation toward the Knesset; the parties that comprise the coalition must answer to coalition discipline; the factions within parliament must abide by party discipline so as to facilitate its legislative work.

All these are agreed-upon conditions in which personal desire is trumped by party or group considerations. These rules are accepted with the knowledge that without them it would be impossible to properly manage the affairs of the state in a multi-party, parliamentary system. Kadima is promoting a norm that represents the opposite: the individual, the voter, is stripped of real freedom to vote and is herded to the polls by dint of the power wielded by outside influences. It is hardly surprising that those elected in such a manner are those who violate the rules of the game once they reach the Knesset or the government.