Grumpy Old Man: Beyond the script
What we have here, essentially, is a one-man party with plenty of window dressing: people from all walks of life, two or three already known to the wider public, but all – including Lapid – complete political newbies.
Yair Lapid addressing supporters in post election speech, January 22, 2013. Photo: REUTERS/Ammar Awad
T eddy Kollek, the ex-mayor of Jerusalem who died just over six years ago at age
95, was a great man – so great that, unique among Israel’s ex-mayors, he is
buried on Mount Herzl along with many of those who led the country.
had his detractors (ask any dyed-in-the-wool Revisionist), but even on jaunts
through Mahaneh Yehuda, probably the right-wing city’s most rightwing
stronghold, there was nary a vendor who wouldn’t grab the stocky,
Mapainik-to-the-bone mayor and plant a big, wet kiss on one of his ruddy
Kollek was the very embodiment of Jerusalem and, for many, until
his last, unsuccessful run for office – when, old and tired, he pushed himself
through the grind almost solely for the sake of those who genuinely feared for
the city’s future under the stewardship of anyone who was less of a legend – it
was simply unimaginable that there could even be anyone else.
worked for him in his last year as mayor he almost always had a clean desk. He
knew how to choose people and delegate authority. It left time for him to do the
really important thing in running his city: be Teddy Kollek.
someone like that on the national stage.
IN THE next Netanyahu
government, Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid party, 19-strong in the Knesset, will
provide the critical leftward tug this country needs. (Not that Lapid, with his
views on security and diplomacy, is on the Left, but relative to our prime
minister he is.) Notice I write “his views” – because those views, like the
people who were on Lapid’s slate and the order they were in, were pretty much
all his. What we have here essentially is a one-man party with plenty of window
dressing: people from all walks of life, two or three already known to the wider
public, but all – including Lapid – complete political newbies. Like many of his
faction-mates, the head of Yesh Atid will bring a lot of talent to the table.
First and foremost he is a journalist, having been one since his army days when
he was a reporter for the IDF weekly Bemahaneh. Most recently, he wrote the
engaging (and usually spot-on) lead column for Yediot Aharonot’s popular weekend
magazine supplement, and hosted Channel 2’s closely watched Friday evening Ulpan
Shishi news magazine program, where he was known to ask politicians highly
relevant and often uncomfortable questions.
He’s also an author,
playwright and actor and was even an amateur boxer.
Aside from the boxing
and theater, Shelly Yacimovich did pretty much the same before entering politics
in 2006, where she elbowed her way up from being a Labor mid-bencher to become
party leader just under two years ago. In doing so, however, she crafted for
herself a highly regarded political reputation, primarily by pushing through a
long list of highly relevant legislation – as have othe r ex- journal i s t s
cur r ent ly in the Kne s s e t , among them Meretz’s Nitzan Horowitz, Labor’s
(and formerly Kadima’s) Nachman Shai and Bayit Yehudi’s Uri
Whereas Yacimovich made her political bones before pushing front
and center, Lapid parachuted straight into a position where he’s now negotiating
directly with Binyamin Netanyahu over which top portfolio he’ll be given and
which portfolios will go to Yesh Atid compatriots.
Unfortunately, I have
a nagging sense that Lapid might be a bit too wet behind the ears to be
entrusted with a high-level position at so delicate a time. He brings with him
perhaps too much of a reputation as a well-scripted pretty boy, from a highly
practiced gaze and well-cadenced delivery to a sartorial preference for hip
Many complain that he’s a bit too full of himself even
for politics and is something of an arriviste version of Netanyahu, who has long
been dogged by accusations of having an outsized ego and an even bigger chunk of
arrogance. I CAN’T help but get the feeling that so far Yair Lapid is best only
at being Yair Lapid. This was borne out by post-election comments as part of a
superb report on his campaign by Ben Shani that was broadcast earlier this week
on Channel 2’s acclaimed Uvda program.
“It’s not of secondary importance
to be able to deliver messages,” Lapid told Shani three days after Israel voted.
“At the end of the day, politics also has to do with the ability to unify people
around ideas and then make them act.”
Which is all well and good. But is
Lapid capable of putting ideas into motion, especially in an arena where people
who were much more capable got eaten alive? “Netanyahu has a very ‘correct’
biography,” Lapid said in a segment of the report that was filmed a few weeks
before the election, while he was driving himself to one more in an endless
litany of campaign stops. “General Staff Reconnaissance Unit, a certain
excellent university in America, a first job, a second and so on. This, of
course, deserves respect. With me it’s not like that.
I have a more
disorganized and eclectic biography, but at least it interests me.”
that’s what really counts.
Finally, at the end of the post-election
segment during which Lapid was interviewed in the quiet of the study at his
Ramat Aviv home, Shani asked him: “As of today, are you running in the next
election for prime minister?” “I suppose so,” he quickly replied.
you win in the next election?” Without hesitation and with a clear element of
nonchalance, Lapid narrowed his eyes a bit and tilted his head slightly from
side to side, the way he often does as part of his polished, on-themoney
delivery, and said again, “I suppose so.”
He can, of course, always grow.
Others have risen just as meteorically. Witness Barack Obama. But there’s always
the untidy matter of the fate of Israel’s centrist parties. They generally start
off with a bang but end suddenly and always prematurely. The end, too, can come
with a bang, but more often it’s a whimper so silent that the party merely slips
gently into the political night, becoming in the process nothing more than a
footnote to the country’s relatively short, but exceedingly turbulent,
Remember the Democratic Movement for Change? Remember the Center
Party? Remember Shinui? (It was led by another man named Lapid.) And over the
past year, who didn’t watch the almost embarrassing disintegration of Kadima?
Last time around it garnered 28 Knesset seats, this time just two.
enough to make you want to grab this sovery Tel Avivian upstart and shake him a
bit until he either comes down to earth or skulks off to treat a stiff
WHICH BRINGS me back to Kollek. Here was a man who, by virtue of
his unfettered charisma and physical and verbal bluntness, could get away with
it. He had the pre-statehood street cred, but he also had that clean desk. He
barely had to lift a finger to run the city. The phone, yes; his often gruff
But his ability to delegate authority and responsibility to
others more qualified for the specific task at hand freed him up to do what he
So far, it seems that all Yair Lapid can do is be Yair Lapid –
which, at this point in his political career, is not very promising. But then I
remember Teddy Kollek and find that there’s something in Lapid (and a lot in
Netanyahu) that makes me want to believe him.
From what I saw of his
study on Uvda, he should start by learning how to clear his desk.