‘Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you what you are,” wrote Miguel de Cervantes in the 17th century. But this bit of folksy wisdom is older than the author of Don Quixote. He merely resorted to and repeated what was in wide circulation before him and what continues ubiquitously after him. Rare indeed is the mother anywhere who in one language or another – in an array of nuances on the theme – hasn’t sternly lectured her offspring and intoned that “you are known by the company you keep.”
Whom we gravitate to and, conversely, who flocks around us, roots for us, boosts us, bets on us and enlists to further our prospects is certainly telling. The nature of our choices and the character of whom we attract can define us.
In the most basic sense our associations can indicate whether we are upstanding or delinquent, whether we are cerebral or shallow, whether we are responsible or reckless, whether we are refined or tacky, whether we are idealistic or hedonist, whether we are loyal or treacherous.
So when an aspiring politico vies for the nation’s topmost title, the composition of her cheerleading squad cannot be dismissed as beside the point. When Tzipi Livni succeeded in securing her party’s leadership – never mind by what questionable means nor with what an infinitesimal margin – the identity of those who reveled in her narrow triumph assumes key significance.
Whom did Tzipi make happy?
THE MOST immediate answer is available at our roadsides. No sooner was Livni’s victory announced – albeit before voting in the Kadima primary ended – than Peace Now festooned our highways, including Tel Aviv’s main traffic artery, the Ayalon Freeway, with gigantic banners calling for the establishment of a “peace government by the present Knesset.” In other words, Peace Now, which doesn’t want new elections (lest ogre Bibi Netanyahu win), favors a replacement for Ehud Olmert from within the existing (if severely skewed and non-representative) parliamentary setup.
Since Livni was formally entrusted with the task of forming a new coalition, the Peace Now campaign must perforce be regarded as supporting her bid. The only other alternative is scheduling early elections.
The Left, always hectoring indignantly in democracy’s name, of late considers elections as inherently undemocratic. In non-coincidental synchronization with the election-shy “Peace Camp,” Livni too is given to authoritatively reciting mantras like: “The country mustn’t be dragged to elections,” “What we need is governmental stability” or “We can’t afford politicking, we have a country to run.”
Subtext: The public mustn’t be allowed to butt in via the ballot box. That would be too destabilizing according to all nominal democrats who prefer that the man-on-the-street stick strictly to his no-consequence daily preoccupations and keep his unwelcome intrusive nose out of the big existential issues.
And in the name of this democratic guideline, it made perfect sense for Livni to invite Meretz into her coalition. It doesn’t really matter whether Meretz will actually join up officially nor not. Its ad hoc support is guaranteed the further left Livni veers, and she knows it. Her positions already overlap those of Labor’s more dovish leftist fringes, which is why the journalistic-judicial elites which propped up Kadima from its illegitimate inception, followed up by advancing Livni’s interests. Their aim was to install the left-most available candidate at the helm of the bogusly centrist Kadima. It was a perfect façade and to help pull it off Livni was, in this instance, their woman.
She might well emerge – sans elections – as Israel’s first ultra-leftist premier, which accounts for the rapturous reaction to her primary coup in such post-Zionist bastions as stylish Rehov Sheinkin. Her negotiations with Ahmed Qurei leave little doubt – she’s committed to repartitioning Jerusalem and fully shrinking Israel back into the 1949 armistice lines (the ones ultra-dove Abba Eban dubbed “the Auschwitz boundaries”). She had opportunistically outstripped the leftward deviations of Ariel Sharon, Ehud Barak and even Ehud Olmert.
This probably accounts for the cohesive editorial ecstasy emanating from Haaretz‘s opinion pages. It’s not for naught that its star columnists uniformly applaud her. But such orchestrated harmony isn’t restricted to Israel’s elitist establishment and its subservient eager-to-please mouthpieces.
THE LIVNI-LEFT synergy seems to have extended even beyond Israel’s borders to include the most unlikely of endorsers. No less than Syria’s government newspaper Tishrin has seen fit to sing her praises. Promoting her as “the Mossad’s beauty,” Tishrin is sure “she will determine the entire region’s fate.” Avoiding its standard diatribe and invective, Tishrin described Livni as Israel’s “iron lady.” This is no individual writer’s whim or personal misreading of reality. Nothing is printed in the leading Damascus daily without the regime’s unambiguous nod. The Syrians have a staked interest in sucking up to Tzipi, a courtesy they withheld from all Israeli leaders thus far. They must entertain high expectations for tangible goodies in return.
The al-Arabia satellite television network took its advocacy a step farther. It didn’t merely withhold abuse and bestow a few selected compliments on the Israeli premier of its choice. Al-Arabia did Livni an actual service. A few days pre-primary, it gave her a free prime-time electioneering slot, just after the end of the Ramadan daylight fast, during which she in effect made her pitch to Israeli Arab eligible primary participants, who comprise more than a fifth of Kadima’s membership roll. There must have been a cogent reason why al-Arabia bothered to insert itself into Kadima’s internal electoral process, and why, having opted to do that, it chose to champion Livni’s cause.
Perhaps Livni’s interlocutor, Qurei proffered the most pertinent explanation when he openly and unabashedly drummed up support for Livni, arguing that “she is prepared to grant Palestinians what no one else would.” He must know what he’s talking about and his decision to take a stand at all must be grounded in ulterior motives. Livni did arrange a blue Israeli identity card for his daughter and he did arrange that very considerate al-Arabia interview for her, showing again that not only are there no free lunches but that the company you keep does suggest quite a lot.
Some may minimize the bottom line, while others may ascribe more than immediately meets the eye to the “Mossad beauty’s” associations, but one fact is quite incontrovertible: Livni has managed – unlike any past Israeli premier or wannabe premier – to consolidate around her persona an unprecedented coalition of forces inimical to Zionism, be they in greater Tel Aviv (trendy laid-back bohemian post-Zionists, self-serving local business tycoons, media moguls and doctrinaire old-school leftists) or as far off as Damascus, Ramallah and the United Arab Emirates. These are all Livni’s friends. They are the company she keeps.
Therefore, try though she may to pose as the post-ideological, pragmatic single-minded chairperson of the board, she is no dispassionate political middle-of-the-roader. She has taken an extreme-left detour, down the circuitous habitually well-beaten track of her old and new groupies. They all compellingly attest to who she is. As Cervantes stressed, his observation about one’s friends may be “a short sentence but it’s drawn from a long experience.”