The Meaning of Livni

Livni's success thus far suffices to show that despite the gloomy forecast, Israeli society has extricated itself from the trauma of the Second Lebanon War.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's achievements ahead of the primary election in Kadima are a positive statement about the state of Israeli society. For these purposes it makes no difference whether Livni wins the election, ultimately, or loses it to Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz. Her success thus far suffices to show that despite the gloomy forecast, Israeli society has extricated itself from the trauma of the Second Lebanon War.

In September 2006, there presumably would have been no chance that the public would have seriously considered the candidacy of a woman with no military experience. Even in September 2008, despite the advantage she holds in public opinion polls, Livni's victory is not ensured. The moment of voting is an exercise in guided imagination, during the course of which the voter pictures the future in his imagination. If he envisions fire and pillars of smoke, panic and the habit of responding to force with force may bring him back to the electoral bosom of a military man. Nonetheless, the readiness to go with Livni up until now portends well not only for her but also says something about the situation of a recovering society.

There are two assumptions at the basis of this assessment: The first is that precisely because of Kadima's amorphous nature, its voters represent the mainstream of "the Jewish people" in Israel. Primaries in a ruling party are more than internal elections: They constitute a measure of the mark at which most of society can be found,including those who have no intention of voting for Kadima. The second assumption is that the last war delivered a mortal blow to citizens' sense of personal security and entirely undermined their faith in the country's leadership. One of the immediate conclusions they arrived at was that the terrible failure derived from the placement of civilian leaders at the top, most notably Ehud Olmert as prime minister, and the defense minister at the time, Amir Peretz, both of whom lacked significant military experience.

The clinging to this interpretation led to fear of a retreat in the "civilianization" of the government in Israel. It seemed as though the decline in the self-confidence of the entire society would push it into the arms of some general, it almost didn't matter who - as long as he had military experience that would enable him to defend us when trouble strikes again. The danger of another missed opportunity was embodied in a collective fear of change. Any change. Change, we were taught by the war and its leaders, is a synonym for danger.

The fear that these distortions would be perpetuated has not been realized. The public, as it is reflected by means of the model of Kadima, has not internalized the mistaken conclusion with regard to the danger of civilian leadership. With considerable insight, after the first shock, it refused to surrender to the curse to the effect that civilian leadership is dangerous for Israel and realized that this has been a specific case of a leadership that is bad not because it is civilian but rather because of the identity of those who constitute it and their personal characteristics. These insights are manifested by the apparent willingness of voters to give Livni a chance.

Two blonde women and two generals always invite a comparison. Nonetheless, contrary to the seemingly obvious comparison between Livni and U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton, and between Shaul Mofaz and U.S. Senator John McCain, the point of similarity lies elsewhere. For purposes of this discussion, Mofaz is McCain and Livni is Senator Barack Obama. Mofaz, like McCain, is offering a kind of "stability," which is translated in the Israeli experience into static thinking that clings to the rule of military people; Livni, like Obama, represents change by virtue of the fact of being a woman, a civilian and - alas and alack - lacking in military experience.

Already less than two years after that war, the phrase "military experience" had ceased to constitute a magic slogan that automatically rakes in votes. The proof is not only Mofaz. Ehud Barak, Soldier Number 1, is also not succeeding in "taking off" solely with the help of a Sabena airplane wing. During his time in the political desert (not exactly an accurate definition of the Akirov Towers), Barak planned to replicate the Ariel Sharon model and leap into the leadership at a moment of crisis. There is a crisis, but his qualifications are no longer perceived as capable of resolving it.

"Security" is still a supreme value; it is a fact that the parties that are preparing for the approaching general election are urgently putting out bids for veterans of the standing army. Nonetheless, military rank and the number of citations of distinction one holds are no longer a deciding factor in establishing one's leadership.

So what is? The answer to this question has not yet been given. Beyond the knowledge of what does not satisfy it - it is not clear what the public is looking for in its leaders. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it is possible to achieve clarity of a position by means of elimination, when you know what it is you don't want.