Livni, Tzipi (1958–)

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Livni, Tzipi

Tzipora ("Tzipi") Livni is an Israeli politician and minister of foreign affairs and vice prime minister in the Kadima-led government of ehud olmert. She was only the second woman to become foreign minister of Israel, following Golda Meir decades earlier. Livni was also one of the founding members of the Kadima Party. Before joining Kadima, she was a member of the center-right Likud Party.


Livni was born 8 July 1958 in Tel Aviv, into a prominent political family. Both her parents were members of the Irgun, a right-wing Jewish nationalist underground organization that fought against the British mandate in Palestine before the establishment of the State of Israel. Her father, Eitan Livni, was a right-wing hero who was operations chief of the Irgun; he later became a Knesset member for Menachem Begin's Herut Party.

Livni grew up in Tel Aviv. After finishing high school, she completed her compulsory military service in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), attaining the rank of lieutenant. She then went on to study for a law degree at Bar-Ilan University.

Livni worked for the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad for four years, from 1980 to 1984. Following that, she practiced law in a private firm for ten years, specializing in public and commercial law. From 1996 to 1999, Livni worked as the director general of the Government Companies Authority, which was responsible for the privatization of government corporations and monopolies.

Livni entered national politics in 1999 when she was elected to the fifteenth Knesset as a member of the Likud. She quickly rose through party ranks. From 1999 to 2001, she was a member of the Likud opposition to the Labor-led coalition government of Ehud Barak. Following the Likud's victory in the February 2001 general elections, Livni was appointed minister of regional cooperation in Prime Minister ariel sharon's government. She went on to hold various positions in Sharon's governments (2001–2003, 2003–2006), including minister of agriculture and rural development, minister of immigrant absorption, minister of housing and construction, and minister of justice.

Livni became known to the Israeli public during this time, and gained a reputation as one of the more centrist and dovish members of the Likud Party. On 12 November 2005, she became the first politician from the Israeli right to speak at the official annual commemoration of the assassination of yitzhak rabin. Livni was a strong supporter of then-prime minister Sharon, and backed his controversial plan for a unilateral Israeli disengagement from Gaza. She was instrumental in getting the Knesset to approve this plan, against the objections of other Likud Knesset members.

After Sharon left the Likud in November 2005 and established a new centrist party, Kadima, Livni resigned from the Likud and joined Sharon in the new party. In January 2006, she was appointed acting foreign minister by acting Prime Minister Olmert following the resignation of Silvan Shalom. She also continued to serve as justice minister. In the March 2006 election for the seventeenth Knesset, she was placed third on the party's list of candidates, which effectively guaranteed her reelection to the Knesset.

After Kadima won the March 2006 election, Olmert formed a new coalition government and appointed Livni as foreign minister. She was also given the title of vice prime minister.

During Israel's monthlong war with Hizbullah in July 2006, Livni staunchly defended Israel's actions to the world and engaged in intensive diplomacy to gain international support for Israel. She favored a quick end to the conflict, but was overruled by the prime minister, who wanted more time for Israel to degrade Hizbullah's military capabilities. Livni's domestic popularity increased as a result of her efforts during the war, while Olmert's popularity greatly declined, due to the IDF's failure to decisively win the war.

As Livni became one of the most popular politicians in Israel, she emerged as a possible contender to replace the beleaguered Olmert in the leadership of Kadima. Livni herself expressed an interest in one day becoming prime minister, fueling the Israeli media's speculation of a growing rivalry between Livni and Olmert. Relations between them were also strained by Livni's public calls for Israel to conduct immediate negotiations with moderate Palestinians on the borders of an interim Palestinian state, a diplomatic move opposed by Olmert. In May 2007 Livni publicly called for Olmert's resignation following the publication of a highly critical interim report by the Winograd Committee, which was established to investigate the government's handling of the conflict with Hizbullah the previous summer. Olmert refused to resign, and Livni's attempt to oust him failed, as she did not gain the support of most Kadima members of the Knesset. Nevertheless, Livni continued to remain in the government.


Name: Tzipora ("Tzipi") Livni

Birth: 1958, Tel Aviv, Israel

Family: Husband; two children

Nationality: Israeli

Education: LL.B., Bar-Ilan University


  • 1980–1984: Works for Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad
  • 1996–1999: Director general, Government Companies Authority
  • 1999: Elected member of Knesset for Likud
  • 2001: Appointed minister of regional cooperation
  • 2002: Appointed minister of agriculture and rural development
  • 2003: Appointed minister of immigrant absorption
  • 2004: Appointed minister of housing and construction; receives Champion of Good Government Award
  • 2005: Appointed minister of justice
  • 2006–present: Minister of foreign affairs, vice prime minister


In many parts of the world, we are seen mainly through the lens of the Arab-Israeli conflict. And too often, that lens is distorted. To many, this conflict is portrayed as a clash of David and Goliath, with Israel perceived unjustly as Goliath. But this simplistic image ignores the fact that Israel remains a threatened democracy in a hostile region.

We have, of necessity, the capacity to defend ourselves but we will always be constrained in its use by our values. And yet, we face an enemy willing to use all the means at its disposal, to kill without restraint and without distinction.

Every innocent casualty in this conflict is a tragedy. There is no difference between the tears of a grieving Israeli mother and a grieving Palestinian mother. But there is a critical moral difference between the terrorists that hunt down civilians, and the soldiers that target terrorists, while trying to avoid civilian casualties.



Livni grew up in a well-known right-wing nationalist family. Ideologically, her parents were followers of Revisionist Zionism, the movement established by Vladimir Jabotin-sky that championed Jewish possession over the entire "Land of Israel"—which, it was claimed, included all of present-day Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, and Jordan (the claim to the latter territory was dropped by the late 1960s). A map of this territory ("Greater Israel") was even carved on her father's gravestone.

Livni initially adopted this Revisionist ideology and supported Israel's permanent control over the West Bank and Gaza, areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Later, however, Livni came to the conclusion that Israel could not remain a Jewish and democratic state if it continued to rule over the Palestinians in these areas. She therefore abandoned her commitment to Greater Israel, in favor of maintaining a secure Jewish majority within a smaller Israel. This stance led her to support Sharon's disengagement plan and then Olmert's "convergence" plan. She also publicly accepted the future creation of a Palestinian state.

Livni's moderate political positions were especially significant and influential because of her Revisionist family background. Like Olmert, another scion of a prominent Revisionist family, Livni's acceptance of the need for an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and large parts of the West Bank helped move some of the ideological right in Israel in a more pragmatic and centrist direction.


Livni came to international attention when she became the second woman to serve as Israel's foreign minister, following Golda Meir decades earlier. She is seen as a rising star in Israeli politics and even a possible future contender for prime minister. As foreign minister, she has received favorable international assessments and is considered to be an articulate and effective advocate for Israel on the world stage.


While Livni's legacy cannot yet be known, she made headlines when she became the first cabinet minister in Israel's history to explicitly differentiate between Palestinian attacks against Israeli soldiers and attacks against civilians. In an interview on 28 March 2006 on the American television news program ABC Nightline, Livni stated: "Somebody who is fighting against Israeli soldiers is an enemy and we will fight back, but I believe that this is not under the definition of terrorism, if the target is a soldier." In making this important distinction, Livni challenged the prevailing tendency in Israel to describe all Palestinian violence against Israelis—soldiers and civilians—as terrorism.


Livni, Tzipi. "Address." United Nations, 61st General Assembly. New York, 20 September 2006. Available from

Shavit, Ari. "The Livni Plan." Ha'aretz (9 January 2007). Available from

                                              Dov Waxman