Monday, July 23, 2012

In Kadima-Likud Fallout, An Opening For J14

While Israeli MK Tzachi Hanegbi's attempt to get 7 Kadima members to leave the party seems to have failed for reasons Michael Koplow discusses here, the internal tensions of the party are undeniable.  In the wake of Kadima's departure from the Likud-led coalition last week, fractures within the party are becoming even more evident than they were in weeks prior.  This afternoon's announcement by Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz that he will not join Prime Minister Netanyahu's "operational adventures" is a clear attempt by Mofaz to distance his policy from that of the PM.  Whether elections happen in the next 90 days or as scheduled in October 2013, Mofaz and other major party leaders have an interest in posturing themselves against Bibi's government.

This turmoil, inherent in the Israeli political system, represents a political opportunity structure of which the J14 social justice movement could take advantage.  Originally theorized by Charles Tilly (1978), political opportunity structures are facets of a political system which affect the efficacy of a social movement.  Doug McAdam (in McAdam, McCarthy, and Zaid, 1996) outlines four dimensions of political opportunity:

1) The relative openness or closure of the institutionalized political system.
2) The stability or instability of that broad set of elite alignments that typically undergird a polity.
3) The presence or absence of elite allies.
4) The state's capacity and propensity for repression.

With regards to Israeli politics, the second dimension should be of great interest to the leadership of the J14 movement and those who track it.  Elite alignments are highly unstable in Israel, and have been particularly so over the past 80 days.  The J14 movement has an opportunity to take advantage of these shifting alignments in ways that leverage itself into institutionalized political discourse.

Kadima leader Mofaz has an incentive to capture a broad base of constituents who are disillusioned with the current government in order to dominate the elite power structure in Israel come elections.  Mofaz also faces distrust from the left wing of the Kadima party for his alignment with PM Netanyahu.  If Kadima is to hold together as a party, Mofaz will need to overcome this lack of trust from the left, a problem with which Kadima as a party has dealt since the departure of Tzipi Livni.  

Prime Minister Netanyahu also has an interest in working with J14, if only to quell the small scale civil unrest and disturbing trend of self-immolation which has taken place over the past month or so in Israel.  If the face of the protest movement shifts from being Tel Aviv urban elites to frustrated IDF veterans, it could reenergize J14 in a way that would not benefit the Prime Minister.  Given that IDF service is compulsory in Israel, a movement whose faces are IDF veterans is a group no elite in Israel wants to oppose.

The next few weeks in Israel are likely to give leading roles to a large cast of political characters.  However, it is important that analysts not overlook the role played by actors outside the formal political system.  The J14 movement is not a part of the ongoing wrangling in the Knesset at the moment, but it may have an important role to play in the outcome of this wrangling.