Sunday, July 08, 2007

Meet Tzipi Livni, Spartan -- but wears jeans!

Watch out for this one (Photo: NYT)
The Sunday NYT Magazine's cover story today is a profile of Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. The author is Roger Cohen, a regular Page 2 columnist for the International Herald Tribune. At the IHT, his stuff is savvy commentary on Europe from an American perspective. In the Livni profile, he sets out to explain to an American reader largely unfamiliar with contemporary Israeli politics and culture what makes Tzipi tick. So it's half a not so sympathetic deconstruction of a tough cookie, and half primer on the predicament of Israel today, decadent in its post-heroic age, paranoid about the future, but unwilling to make the hard sacrifices to secure it. The article is worth looking at for two reasons. First, you get a sense of Livni's vision, which is to say, her platform for the PM job. Time is not on Israel's side, she argues. In fact, the state, the Jewish character of the state of Israel, is being delegitimated. You could also say that Livni seems to be going for a "post-ideological" posture -- a new way forward. She's almost Obama-esque both in the content of her tirelessly forward-looking message and in her delivery. Which brings me to my second point. One thing that Cohen misses, for all the pretense of getting beneath the surface, is just how clever a politician Livni is. I think she puts one over on her interviewer, though he, in starting the article by relating an anecdote about her nerves and desire not to be seen as a tight-ass, thinks it's the other way around. What I mean is that this is clearly someone capable of using the foreign media to bolster her position in Israel and vis à vis her rival, PM Olmert. Somewhat ironically, Cohen mentions the FM vs. PM struggle to dominate the relationship with Washington as a recurrent feature of Israeli politics. Livni plays this game very well. And, disappointingly, that part of her story isn't at all covered in a profile in a US newspaper that dwells on her brief (but sexy?) stint in the Mossad and misses that she has strong US connections and speaks perfect English!

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

She does not speak perfect English.

Eamonn McDonagh said...

i think her English might best be described as perfectly adequate, rather than perfect

Amos said...

Haha.

Noah makes a very good point in his post. Livni has been very successful in presenting herself as a sober and capable foreign minister. Even if her English is not perfect, she sounds far better than Olmert does in his televised appearances with foreign leaders. To me, he inevitable comes across looking like a buffoon, whereas Livni projects a more serious image. Livni's friendship with Rice is well-known; I think she could also get along splendidly with Merkel and Sarko. Not sure about Putin.

Noah said...

Noah, did we read the same article? 1) Half of it is devoted to Livni's love affair with Condy and her acumen in positioning Israel within a post-9/11 alliance of the free world against Terror. 2) Cohen doesn't dwell on her Mossad days; it's a couple of paragrahs. 3) I'm not sure what you mean when you say that she "puts one over on her interviewer" - that she *means* to come across as image-conscious? 4) Aside from her "forward-looking message" (aren't all politicians supposed to be future-oriented?), Livni comes across as anything but "Obama-esque"; what she lacks in charisma she seems to make up for in "values," inherited from her lingering belief in Greater Israel, while Obama makes up for in charisma what he lacks in concrete platforms (at least for now).
I for one found the article pretty even-handed, with Livni coming off poorly not because of her purported neuroses about being uptight but rather because of her purported inability to look beyond her own ideology, once she settled on it (no pun intended). She might be "sober and capable," but is that all we want to say about this woman? What about her support of "strengthening"/expanding West Bank settlements? I wish Cohen had delved more deeply into that aspect of her story instead of simply alluding to it. Otherwise I quite liked the piece.
Noah, I'm in NYC, let's hang out!

Amos said...

Noah #2,

Where is the lingering belief in Greater Israel? Is Ma'aleh Adumim "Greater Israel"? Then sign me up, too.

Livni supported the disengagement from Gaza, and it's pretty clear that she supports an evacuation from the West Bank, though not from all the "settlements" (such as Ma'aleh Adumim, to which I referred above).

I wasn't entirely taken by Livni either. The whole thing about the "values" also turned me off. But where does she say that she wants to expand settlements?

I get the impression that what Roger Cohen seemed to be looking for was a total renunciation of the Zionist narrative (not just the one of the Right). Livni didn't give him that. For better or worse, she is still convinced (values!) that the Jews have a claim to the Land of Israel that is as legitimate as that of the Palestinians.

Anyway, I hate to come across as too much of a Livni-cheerleader. I would support Barak before her...indeed, I would go much further left than that...but I'm just saying: give credit where it's due.

Noah said...

Amos,

What I meant by her "belief in Greater Israel" has less to do with L's current policy platforms (e.g. dismantlement of most of the West Bank settlements) than with the way in which she couches them. She makes it fairly clear that the only good reason to evacuate from the West Bank is to placate the "international community" (i.e. the US with its roadmap), in other words to "reduce Israel’s responsibility for what is called the occupation," as she says ("Her Agenda," _Ma'ariv_, Dec 2006). I won't even get into that charming phrase "what is called the occupation." Suffice it to say I suspect that, in the absence of American pressure, Livni would support the strengthening of the WB settlements, just as her mentor, Sharon, did. My admittedly perfunctory research into her stint as minister of housing and construction in 2003 and her stance in 2005 re: Ma'aleh Adumim, leads me to this conclusion. Maybe it's wrong.

Her take on the security fence also bothers me, for it's fairly clear that she sees it not only as a security measure but as a future border.

Amos, you don't come across as a Livni-cheerleader, don't worry :), but while I'm willing to give her (begrudging) credit for being a clever politician, I won't extend it far beyond that.

Anonymous said...

Hzbani said
People do some thing about your blog !!!!

Amos said...

Sorry, a little busy right now and for the foreseeable future. Will try though. Maybe tonight.

Nobody said...

post that you may interested to comment on: Wahhabite Russia

Nobody said...

Tom and Jerry are Arabs

Nobody said...

updated: Wahhabite Russia

moeursalen said...

I liked much of your story and am an admirer of Tzipi Livni...but I take issue with the adjective "obama-esque" to describe her. Considering Obama's negative views of the Israeli state, and his closeness to known anti-semites, describing Tzipi as "Obamaesque" would be a definite put-down.

Anonymous said...

Tzipi the pinhead. Ugly and a lawyer...yammach schmo ve zichro