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Kahlon and Israeli Election Fever

Surprise 'Time Out' By Popular Likud Cabinet Minister Moshe Kahlon Is Indicator Of Harsh Post Election Economic Decrees

IsraCast Assessment: Kahlon Decided To Step Aside After Concluding He Will Not Be In Position To Affect Likud's Future Economic Policy

Knesset - the Israeli parliament

 Just why popular Likud Cabinet Minister Moshe Kahlon has bowed out of politics is still shrouded in mystery. At the height of his career and at the start of the early election campaign Kahlon has still not provided a full explanation for his decision that startled the country. On the basis of what is known so far, Analyst David Essing has concluded 'Though this be madness, yet there is method in it'.

 Why would the most popular Likud cabinet minister suddenly announce he is taking a 'time out' from politics? Moshe Kahlon has been riding a crest of popularity not only in the Likud but right across the political spectrum. So how come this fifty-one year old political meteor, apparently with no private or family problems, is stepping aside at the start of the Israeli election campaign? The affable self-made Sefaradi Likudnik who held the Communications portfolio has been lauded by Right and Left alike for taking on the powerful celluar telephone companies that have been gouging the public for years. Most experts thought Kahlon didn't have much of a chance against the telephone tycoons and their teams of lawyers and financial experts. They were wrong. Kahlon forced them to slash their rates and encouraged greater competion by opening the market to new companies. Overnight Kahlon became the most popular Likudnik, with the exception of Netanyahu. The PM was so enthused that he once publicly exhorted the other cabinet ministers: "You should all be Kahlons!'

Moshe Kahlon (photo: Israeli Knesset)

Then came news of the early election on January 22nd and with it Kahlon's bombshell. The Likud's 'pride and joy' was taking a leave of absence and no, he had no beef with the Prime Minister or the party. In fact, Kahlon pledged to do all he could on behalf of the Likud, except run on its ticket. Timing for politicians like comedians is everything. and Kahlon has proven he is no comedian. Behind his ever ready smile and friendly manner there is a very sharp political and financial mind at work. But perplexed politicians and pundits were at a loss to explain this political mystery. Kahlon looked healthier than ever and there were no indications of a serious illness, family problems or the like. Why had Kahlon waited for an early election to temporarily step aside? One plausible reason could be that Kahlon took a hard look at what might be in store for him after Netantayhu, as widely expected, forms the next coalition government. There are three key portfolios that would be a step up for our protagonist: defense, foreign affairs or finance. In the Likud, a former IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon would be the natural choice. The Foreign Ministry would most likely have to revert to a coalition partner such as Avigdor Lieberman. That leaves only the Finance Ministry. Kahlon was rumored to have sought a Netanyahu commitment to give him the job but the PM refused.

So let's dig deeper. Kahlon was born to Libyan parents in the immigrant neighborhood of Givat Olga near Hedera. Like many Safardi Israelis he turned to the Likud rather than to Ashkenazi dominated Mapai-Labor and also because of Likud's position on the Land of Israel issue. But when it comes to economics, Labor champions a more socialist welfare state whereas Likud sponsors a capitalistic free enterprise economy. There is no doubt, the next government will have to do some serious belt-tightening and social welfare programs will be pruned maybe even slashed. Would Kahlon see eye-to-eye on this with Netanyahu, a confirmed capitalist? During the outgoing administration the PM pretty well dictated economic policy to Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz who acted as an obedient factotum. However the popular Kahlon has proven he is a factor to be reckoned with and knows his own mind. Ergo: this would be a good reason for Netanyahu not to promise the Treasury to Kahlon. Moreover such a step would spark fireworks from Steinitz who would not take it lightly. Other leading Likud cabinet ministers would also take umbrage and the PM preferred not to rock the boat at the outset of the campaign.

However Kahlon may have drawn this conclusion: He is now at the height of his political career but under existing circumstances he has no where to go but down. The crest of popularity he has been riding is about to crash on the shore of the post election reality. It is abundantly clear that harsh economic decrees will have to be imposed in the new budget and Kahlon has no chance of receiving a cabinet post that will enable him to influence economic policy. On the contrary, he will likely be poweless to shape the social policies he feels very passionately about. Therefore Kahlon concluded that in order to be honest with himself he had no choice but to step aside at this political juncture.

In the words of Polonius:

'This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night to day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.'

If this conjecture is true, Kahlon has demonstrated that he is no Hamlet. Kahlon will be sorely missed when Netanyahu and the Likud square off against their biggest rival Labor's Shelly Yachimovich.

David Essing

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