Israel’s Political Wunderkind Better Not Be Like His Predecessor

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Moshe Kahlon in the Knesset. Is he up to the job of finance minister?Credit: Emil Salman

It’s commonly assumed that Benjamin Netanyahu, just like his predecessors, doesn’t particularly like having successful people around him. Ahead of his fourth term as prime minister (shudder the thought), it’s no surprise he has defanged everybody who might threaten his leadership during his tenure, after which he’ll leave to look after his interests in global business. Or maybe he’ll try his hand as Israel’s next president, which would fit the aspirations of his wife Sara perfectly.

Bibi made sure to weaken potential Likud rivals like Gideon Sa’ar, who supposedly left the cabinet of his own volition, hoping to pave his way to becoming Likud’s leader. But now a bright new star has appeared in the political firmament — Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon. It will be interesting to see how he and Bibi get along.

With his charming smile worthy of a toothpaste commercial, Kahlon has judiciously made it to the top. It could be that along the way he has generated unrealistic expectations. Are the skills and qualities he has demonstrated so far, including his major successes — increasing competition in the cellphone industry and his guts in leaving Likud — enough for him to meet expectations?

Kahlon is undoubtedly returning to the fray a more mature and experienced politician, no longer Bibi’s apprentice but more a helpmate during the coalition talks, in which Netanyahu has had to sweat it out when facing more extreme characters like Naftali Bennett.

Yes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and Kahlon has taken on an almost impossible mission. Taxi drivers, those reliable analysts of reality, are saying he’s going for broke in all all-or-nothing mission.

Yair Lapid in Rosh Ha’ayin, February 22, 2015.Credit: Nir Keidar

In other words — he’s taken on a great responsibility. He thinks if he succeeds he’ll become the savior of Israelis who can’t afford housing. What he doesn’t understand is that if his efforts work, Bibi will take the credit. If he fails, he’ll bear the brunt of the blame. For Bibi it’s a win-win scenario.

During the coalition talks, Kahlon revealed himself to be a new type of politician, someone who dictates conditions to the prime minister for agreeing to join the government, someone who demands the finance minister’s post and an economic safety net. He’s the second most important minister after the defense minister, while cementing a role in any decisions regarding the Palestinians.

“I come from Likud, the real Likud that knows how to make peace and withdraw from territories, a conservative and responsible Likud. When making peace with the largest Arab country was required, [Likud] did so, and when it was time to talk it talked. My colleagues and I won’t miss an opportunity to make peace.”

But despite his crowd-pleasing gestures and winning smile, he might have noticed that only two Israeli finance ministers have become prime minister (Levi Eshkol and Bibi). And despite his experience as a politician, it’s no mean feat to repair the ailing housing market. Although retired Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant, his senior partner, will try to prove himself and help out, Galant will quickly find he’s no longer in the army, where an order does the trick.

Kahlon must observe Yair Lapid’s plight to understand exactly what not to do. Lapid was arrogant and frivolous; he considered himself king of Israel, an obvious alternative to Netanyahu.

Ultimately, his arrogance toppled the government, so he’s now watching the ultra-Orthodox destroy the little he did achieve in his year and a half in office. Lapid is no longer relevant. Kahlon will also learn fast that smiles aren’t enough to build a country.

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