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Moshe Kahlon Makes a Splash

Does Netanyahu need to look over his shoulder?

Adam Chandler
October 31, 2012
Moshe Kahlon(AFP)
Moshe Kahlon(AFP)

Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon, who has already become a popular figure in Israel after successfully fighting against cell phone monopolies that cost Israelis hundreds of shekelim a month, did something curious this week in announcing that he would be taking a break from politics. According to a few sources, Kahlon also commissioned a poll (although he disputes this) that revealed that if he struck out on his own and left Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, a new party chaired by him could garner as many as 20 seats in the upcoming election. If Kahlon were to pair up with Tzipi Livni, that number rose to 26 seats, which is one more seat than Likud currently holds. Kahlon claims he is not leaving Likud; meanwhile, Netanyahu continues to embrace him.

At its made the rounds, news of the merger between the Likud Party and Yisrael Beiteinu has given momentum to the idea that Israel might see a coalition on the center-left rise in opposition to it. Could Kahlon lead the charge? Probably not. But here’s some information on him anyway.

Along with his phone feats, the man from Hadera was also appointed minister of welfare and social services two years ago, and swiftly became the caring face of a government generally seen as rather heartless, spearheading an effort from within to reallocate resources to ease some of the economic hardships of impoverished Israelis. He complained about bank fees. He sought to cut electricity prices, or at least offer subsidized rates for those most in need. This, too, was a major factor in his popularity. “When he spoke to Likud members about his elderly mother in (Hadera’s) Givat Olga neighborhood struggling to pay her electricity and water bills,” noted Haaretz’s political commentator Yossi Verter, “they believed every word of it.”

What seems worth nothing is that Kahlon is the son of Libyan parents and that Sephardi voters have been instrumental in both putting and keeping Likud in power for decades now. With a dearth of credible Sephardi politicians, who knows how his maneuvers might change the political landscape. But is there a precedent, however unlikely, for a politician to leave Likud and take control of the country? As David Horovitz points out, Ariel Sharon did the same thing.

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.