This [remark by Yair Lapid] showed a kind of crude contempt, mixed with a whiff
of racism, for those whom Lapid does not consider part of his political camp.
Zoabi was duly elected to the Knesset by Israeli voters who supported her party.
– “Yair Lapid’s mental block,” Haaretz editorial, January 25
It seems that neither the protests nor the vote for Yair Lapid were ever about
“social justice,” in the sense of narrowing the gap between the upper and lower
deciles. On the contrary: If Lapid... finds a way to get money from others and
bring it to his electorate, as they hope he will, then the income gap... will
only grow wider – “The wealthy minions of Yair Lapid,” – Haaretz, January 27
Yair Lapid’s intention of joining up with Netanyahu buries any hope of anything
moving on the diplomatic front in the coming years; there’s no point in denying
it.... Don’t get your hopes up in the socioeconomic realm either... Lapid
won’t fight crony capitalism – because he believes in it; he merely wants to
harness it to meet his own goals. – “Lapid is Netanyahu’s new twin,” Haaretz,
Well, it didn’t take long, did it? In fact, all it took was a brief statement by
Lapid that he would not join up with anti-Zionist lists to prevent the
appointment of Binyamin Netanyahu to head the next governing coalition to incur
the wrath of the far-left Haaretz daily.
of racist prejudice was echoed by the head of the left-wing Meretz faction,
Zehava Gal-On. Under the emotive headline “Meretz leader equates Lapid to racist
Beitar fans,” Ynet reported that Gal-On had posted the following attack on Lapid
on Facebook: “Racism has become ordinary, so it seems natural that Yair Lapid is
dismissing out-of-hand the Arab factions with the disparaging remark ‘We will
not form an obstructing bloc with the Haneen Zoabis.’” Now, while I commend
Lapid on his decision not join forces with the likes of Haneen Zoabi who openly
identifies with Israel’s most implacable foes, this fierce assault on him from
sources that only a short time ago would well have been considered almost
political affiliates is remarkable.
Indeed, it raises serious questions
not only regarding the authenticity of many of Lapid’s positions as presented to
the public in his election campaign, but also to the gullibility, immaturity and
political amnesia of the Israeli electorate – as well as a disturbing lack of
depth and direction in the country’s political discourse.
After all, up
until recently there was little daylight between the opinions Lapid was
expounding and those held by the supporters of Meretz and the readers of
‘Palestinian flag will fly in east Jerusalem’
Thus, while in his
election campaign, Lapid categorically rejected any division of Jerusalem, this
was until recently not the case. Quite the opposite.
Kindly compare and
His manifesto waxes so poetic on the city that one might
mistake it as being lifted from the platform of Naftali Bennett’s right-wing
Bayit Yehudi: “Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel and its unity is a
national symbol of the first degree.
Jerusalem will remain united under
Israeli sovereignty, for Jerusalem is not just a place or a city but the center
of the Jewish-Israel ethos and the holy place to which Jews have turned their
eyes throughout the generations.”
Yet, only a few years ago (May 8,
2008), he expressed a very different position.
As Haaretz’s Barak Ravid
acerbically points out in his trenchant “Will Yair Lapid divide Jerusalem?”
(January 28, 2013): “In an interview to Germany’s Der Speigel from May 2008,
Yair Lapid unequivocally supported the division of Jerusalem and fiercely
attacked the Jewish West Bank settlers whose votes he courted in his recent
In that interview Lapid confidently asserted that
“everyone knows how [the Israeli-Palestinian conflict] will end,” approvingly
forecasting that “the Palestinian flag will fly on public buildings in east
Endorsing ‘the right to hate’
Lapid’s refusal to forge any
alliance with the anti-Zionist Arab parties is a welcome
However, some might that it strikes a discordant note
vis-a-vis sentiments he stridently expressed in the past.
For example, in
an article titled “The right to hate” (Ynet, May 30, 2009), he fiercely attacked
those supporting legal sanctions against Israeli citizens who publicly reject
Israel as a Jewish and democratic state or mark Independence Day as a day of
mourning. He thus implicitly, but unequivocally, endorsed their right to
commemorate the establishment of their own state as a catastrophe – a position
that Haneen Zoabi would eagerly embrace.
Interestingly, others on Lapid’s
Yesh Atid list, such as former journalist Ofer Shelah, have expressed harsh
criticism of any legal restrictions being placed on Israeli citizens
articulating their grief at Israel’s victory in 1948 over its enemies, and at
its success in foiling their intention to annihilate it.
In an article,
“The right is overcome by fear,” published almost contemporaneously with Lapid’s
(NRG, May 31, 2009), Shelah, who is slated to be charged with charting Yesh
Atid’s political/security positions, somewhat abstrusely, tried to dismiss any
legal restrictions on public commemoration of sorrow at Israel prevailing over
the Arabs’ attempt to destroy it, as akin to previous legal attempts to prohibit
homosexuality. Go figure.
Metamorphosis on settlers?
The fact that Lapid
chose to launch his campaign in Ariel, a city located well across the Green
Line, together with his statement that “there is no map on which Ariel isn’t a
part of the state of Israel,” reflects a stunning metamorphosis in his former
vehemently adversarial attitude to the settlers and the
After all, in the not too distant past, Lapid regularly
lambasted the “settlers” for virtually every malaise afflicting the country and
In the previously mentioned Der Spiegel interview, he
places equal responsibility on the settlers and the Arab terror organizations
for any future loss of life. Judge for yourselves: “The greatest tragedy of the
Israeli- Palestinian conflict is that everyone knows how it will end.... The
only unanswered question is how many more people will have to die along the way.
And so we will fight against the extremists on both sides, including our
extremists, the settlers.”
As late as February 10, 2010, in an article
titled “Do settlers care about us?” he implies that the real threat to Israel is
not its enemies, but “4 percent of Israelis,” i.e. the settlers, who endanger
all the others who “must bear the results of a religious ideology they do not
According to Lapid, the settlers are to blame for a litany of
ills: “disintegration, international isolation, and the loss of our national
And of course it is the settlers’ fault, not Palestinians’,
that “so much of our energy is invested in a struggle with the Palestinians
[which] exacts a heavy price, and keeps on increasing with every failed
Last week, I pointed out that Lapid used
his widely read column to berate the opponents of the 2005 disengagement,
warning of the dire consequences and unbridgeable rift that would result, if
they succeeded in persuading the public that expulsion of Jews from Gaza should
be aborted. Six months after its completion, in “The essence of being Israeli”
(February 15, 2006), he crowed, “Disengagement succeeded because Israelis
remembered how to behave as a nation.”
However, several months later in
“Things we couldn’t say during disengagement” (October 13, 2006), when its
catastrophic failure was undeniably apparent, he published a galling admission
that the disengagement “was never about the Palestinians, demography, the
endeavor for peace, [or reducing] the burden on the IDF.”
infuriating arrogance, Lapid revealed that the real reason for the traumatic
displacement and deportation of thousands of productive citizens was that “the
Israelis merely felt that the settlers should be taught a lesson in humility and
perhaps in democracy, too.”
Yet now, the newly metamorphosed Lapid
proclaims that not only must Jerusalem remain undivided under Israeli
sovereignty as a “national symbol of the first degree,” but that the major
settlement blocs including Ariel, Gush Etzion and Ma’aleh Adumin (which
presumably includes – gasp – the controversial E1 area) must do so as
Does Lapid – or anyone on his list – honestly believe that there is
any serious Palestinian partner who would – indeed, could – countenance agreeing
even to start negotiating on those terms – especially in light of the
Lapid-endorsed disengagement, which conveyed an unequivocal message to the Arabs:
If the Jews are confronted with sufficient violence and resolve, they will
capitulate and yield everything for nothing.
Core vs peripheral
Lapid’s past positions are important because it was they that
precipitated the emergence of the political profile through which he garnered
his initial political support and generated his initial electoral momentum. This
is what generated his core constituency, which clearly was drawn to, and
identified with, his harsh condemnation of the settlers and his identification
of them as a source of much of life’s difficulties, both on the personal and the
However, it appears that much of Lapid’s electoral
success came from an additional source, the votes of those who up to the last
minute remained undecided, and at the “eleventh hour” chose to cast their
ballots for his Yesh Atid, because they found no other acceptable
It is more than likely that this last-minute surge of
support – Lapid’s peripheral constituency – was influenced more by exposure to
his later (campaign-generated) perspectives, rather than his earlier ones.
Indeed, had not Lapid very publicly toned down his anti-settler animosity, it is
quite likely that many of his later supporters would have voted Naftali Bennett
– or abstained.
Risk of rupture
This is likely to place severe strains on
the integrity of his party. Clearly it will be difficult, if not impossible, to
satisfy both his core constituency, which was attracted to him by his previously
articulated positions, and his peripheral constituency, which was drawn by his
later ones. This is particularly true with regard to what is referred to as the
peace process. After all, it is clear that no semblance of progress can be made
in this regard if Yesh Atid upholds its commitments to its peripheral
constituency to retain a united Jerusalem and the settlement
However, many in his core constituency – including dovish people
among his MKs, such as former Meretz member Yael German, might find such
“intransigence” unacceptable, especially if coupled with peer pressure from
outside the party.
If the hardline Bayit Yehudi – together with a
considerably more right-wing than heretofore Likud – form the next government,
making “progress” with the Palestinians even more difficult, the potential for
fracture in the newly coalesced Yesh Atid might become ever-more
Should Yesh Atid rupture and disperse, it would
be merely par for the course. As Daphne Netanyahu points out in a telling review
of the fate of “centrist parties” (“Israel’s own tyranny of cliches,” Maraah
Magazine, January 2013), Israel’s political landscape is littered with the
carcasses of such entities.
Prior to each election for the past 35 years
some such party has arisen – and then fallen.
Such endeavors included
Shinui, the Democratic Movement for Change, the Center Party, Kadima and now
Time and time again, the Israeli voter has been hoodwinked
into voting for such allegedly centrist parties only to have them evaporate
before his eyes.
Typically, these parties have fielded star-studded
lineups of public figures of experience and prominence – from IDF chiefs of
staff, generals, heads of security services, internationally renowned
intellectuals, and seasoned politicians.
Some have soared in the polls
only to fizzle out and vanish, usually after one, at the most two, terms,
leaving behind only disappointment and disillusionment.
questions thus arise: What reason is there to believe that the untried and
untested Lapid can succeed, when so many more accomplished figures, with far
greater accumulated achievement, have failed? And why does the Israeli
electorate repeat a depressingly flat learning curve and persist in pursuing the
elusive chimera of an illusionary “Center”?
(www.martinsherman.net) is the founder and executive director of the Israel
Institute for Strategic Studies.