Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

10 Shevat 5759 - Jan. 27, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Opinion & Comment
A Political Earthquake

It is still a long time until the elections in the middle of May, but it is not likely that a more dramatic moment will arise than the Saturday night firing of Defense Minister Yitzchak Mordechai by Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Barely three years in politics, Mordechai is personally very popular. He is seen as sober, honest and levelheaded. In the previous Likud primaries, which were open to all registered Likud voters, Mordechai ranked near the top, even though he had just joined the Likud after leaving the Israel Defense Forces as a general. His Kurdish background gave him an immediate rapport with the rank and file Likud voters.

Throughout the tenure of the government, Mordechai has been responsible and careful. Though he was said to be unhappy with many of Prime Minister Netanyahu's actions, he never went public or undermined him in private. He stuck to his business as Defense Minister and insisted that he was an integral part of the Likud.

In recent weeks, since the elections were agreed upon and even somewhat before, Mordechai has been publicly considering what to do. It was no secret that he was talking with Ehud Barak of Labor as well as with Amnon Shachak of the new, <%- 2>as yet unnamed, centrist party, as well as with Netanyahu.

When a senior Cabinet Minister who occupies a very central policy-making position in a government maintains extended contacts with leaders whose central aim is to overthrow that government, it is a strange situation indeed. A politician, including Yitzchak Mordechai, is certainly entitled to join any party he sees fit, but it is not right for him to continue to serve in a government that he is trying to bring down.

After Mordechai declined to register for the Likud primaries on the previous Friday, Netanyahu was left without many choices. It was evident that Mordechai was on the way out, and Netanyahu had nothing to lose by firing him as soon as possible and not waiting for Mordechai to quit noisily at a time of his own choosing. Netanyahu's letter to Mordechai reached him just about as fast as possible, bechedai sheya'asu, after Shabbos, at one minute to eight. The letter found Mordechai in a meeting with Shachak and Roni Milo, two leaders of the centrist party.

Though he perhaps minimized his loss, there is no doubt that Mordechai's leaving is a serious blow to Netanyahu. Mordechai was a big asset on Netanyahu's side and will be a difficult opposition. Netanyahu will not easily dismiss Mordechai as "a leftist" as he has done with most of his opponents so far. As the first serious candidate for Prime Minister from the Sephardic community, Mordechai may also be able to win the support of many traditional Likud supporters. He will certainly not evoke the visceral rejection that Labor leaders do in many parts of the country.

Some of Mordechai's first moves, like visiting the Kosel, were evidently designed to appeal to the religious and traditional communities. Though it is welcome to see a politician who practices consensus Judaism and does not attack the religious community, Mordechai will have to explain what his colleague Roni Milo will do in the party if not persecute religion. That was his only issue for the past several years.

As for Netanyahu, having lost one of his prime electoral properties, his task of getting reelected just became that much harder.

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