Finance Minister Yair Lapid 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
I understand nothing about economics
- Yair Lapid, Minister of Finance of the State of Israel
I am saying what we need to do is something – Yair Lapid – in The New York
Times, on the Palestinian issue.
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid is the most dangerous man in Israeli politics
today, a good-looking, charismatic, overconfident fool, an affable ignoramus
with no intellectual gravitas, devoid of moral principle, but with the gift of a
silver tongue and the unmistakable – and largely undisguised – penchant for
demagoguery and dictatorship.
This is not the topic I had planned to
write on this week. I had something entirely different in mind. But Lapid’s two
infuriatingly smug interviews with Charlie Rose earlier this week made a change
of priorities imperative.
The spectacle of someone,
without any background in military matters; who admits to having no
understanding of economics; with no knowledge of international affairs and
certainly no experience in their conduct; whose scholastic achievements do not
even include high school matriculation, pontificating to all and sundry on how
the affairs of the nation should be run, is so galling that it cannot be left
It is even more vexing since Lapid has conceded that he
has been forced to discard many of his preconceived opinions he held prior to
entering politics, once he encountered the realities after entering them,
confessing earlier this year to The New York Times: “I used to have so many
opinions before I learned the facts.”
Yet judging from the Rose
interview, this has left him unchastened. His brashness undiminished, he
continues issuing – with commendable self-assuredness – proclamations that were
either meaningless, self-contradictory or unfounded.
Indeed, Lapid has
the telegenic presence and charm to make utter nonsense sound almost
intelligent, the wildly implausible, almost reasonable – unless you listen to
what he has to say.
As one of the creators of the Lapidometer, a
satirical website that parodies Lapid’s pronounced penchant for the use of
social media, commented: “We noticed that the Yesh Atid party spends a lot of
time on Facebook instead of engaging in parliamentary activities [but], their
posts don’t say anything. They’re full of beautiful text and very little
substance. A bit like Yair Lapid.”
In many ways the
political ascendency of Lapid is a perplexing conundrum. For there is such a
staggering number of documented instances of his embarrassing ignorance and faux
pas that it is difficult to comprehend how the public was duped into voting for
him in such large numbers. Even more astounding is how his political rivals did
not use this documented abundance to demolish his public image and undermine his
For example, Haaretz (March 25, 2012) revealed how “Lapid
got enmeshed in a myriad of embarrassing [preelection] blunders.” To illustrate
the point: Lapid appeared at the prestigious Reali school in Haifa before a
group of pupils and parents. During his lecture, he presented an array of facts
and figures that were not only inaccurate but, at times, entirely fictitious,
referring to imaginary comparative rankings of Israel in various field of
scholastic endeavor, and to nonexistent tests – which he suggested be
The Haaretz article also referred to a scathing review of
Lapid’s writing on a wide range of topics by B. Michael, a well-known,
distinctly left-leaning publicist, on the popular TV program Media
The critique is so caustic and telling that I feel at least some of
its highlights merit citation here – translated from the original
An embarrassing catalogue
B. Michael begins his withering assault
with an episode in which Lapid, who as mentioned earlier did not complete high
school, was admitted to a prestigious program for studies toward a PhD degree at
Bar- Ilan University. Participation was limited to graduate students with
exceptionally high grades in their BA degrees.
Lapid was originally
admitted on the basis of his “literary and journalistic achievements.” But his
admission provoked an investigation by the Council for Higher Education that
oversees the nation’s universities.
This investigation determined that
Lapid’s achievements were insufficient to justify his enrollment in the program,
and his admission was revoked.
B. Michael admits that many tend to
acknowledge that Lapid has “special talents” but he himself has serious
After reading some of Lapid’s writings, B. Michael found that
these doubts only intensified.
He explains why: “Let’s begin with Ancient
Greece. Lapid writes on Athens and enumerates the great figures of ancient
Greece: Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, Copernicus... Copernicus??!!! Copernicus was
a Polish astronomer who lived in the 16th century with no connection whatsoever
to Ancient Greece. Oh well, a “minor” error of two millennia. I suppose these
“In the very same article, he lists the great Renaissance
artists: Michelangelo, Leonardo [di Vinci], Donatello, Giacometti...
Giacometti??!! There was indeed a great sculptor, Giacometti. But he was Swiss
and died in 1966! The Renaissance ended somewhat earlier – believe me! Anyway,
at least the magnitude of the error was reduced – to “only” 500
B. Michael jibes: “Perhaps his talents lie
in political science. But no. That won’t work either.
In a extensive
article on the US Constitution, Lapid commends it – because it was not written
by a committee (heaven forbid) but by one inspired individual called John
“Good grief! The US constitution was composed by a committee
comprising dozens of people. John Adams was not even in America [at the time]. I
have no idea where he got his ‘facts’ from,” B. Michael writes.
Michael has more: “What about foreign languages? Are you sitting down? Do you
know how he translated the word “forefathers” i.e. our biblical ancestors? It’s
all in black and white in the newspaper? The four patriarchs!!... There happen
to be four matriarchs but only three patriarchs. I have no idea whom he was
referring to – perhaps Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and... Copernicus!!!
of time constraints, I refrain from telling you what he did to Shakespeare and
Julius Caesar – in an attempt to defend [Ehud] Olmert – not for some righteous
cause. May God forgive him because Shakespeare certainly won’t. All of this is –
believe me – a mere drop in a very large bucket...,” B. Michael
Arrogance and indolence?
B. Michael ends with an observation of
significance for this analysis:
“But seriously, these errors are not merely
journalistic ‘glitches,’ not just amusing displays of ignorance. They reflect a
great deal of arrogance and negligence because if you spend 20 seconds at a
[computer] keyboard or three minutes with an encyclopedia, it won’t happen to
you with such frequency. And if a journalist is not prepared to engage in
minimal research, it reveals something about his... abilities.”
merely a partial extract from the critique, and I urge Hebrew-proficient readers
to view the entire video (available on YouTube) – not only to acquire a
comprehensive overview of B. Michael’s “review,” but to share my amazement that
it was not used intensively by Lapid’s rivals in the last election to discredit
him and his Yesh Atid party.
One might have expected that they would have
had a vested interest in ensuring that such a damning expose would go viral.
Yet, at the time of the election, there had been only about 30,000 views of the
video – barely above the number of votes required for one Knesset seat. Perhaps
much of Lapid’s impressive success was due to the indolence/apathy of his
adversaries more than anything else.
Back to Charlie Rose
Well, to get
back to the Charlie Rose interviews, the catalyst for this column. Throughout
both of them, Lapid’s lack of substance and poor grasp of the issues were
His recurring theme was that he had entered the
political arena to effect change – strongly implying that this was something
only he could achieve. Yet throughout the lengthy exchange, he gave no
indication as to how such a desired change is to be achieved.
elaborate on any actionable policy prescription, Lapid went little beyond
generic declarations of intent – strongly reminiscent of the introductory
excerpt: “I am saying what we need to do is..something.”
reiterates time and again his concern for the middle class, who hitherto have
borne the brunt of the policies he has initiated. He claims he is committed to
enhancing their situation. But apart from professions of goodwill, he gives no
clue as to what measures he proposes to adopt. He rejects trickle down economics
as benefiting only the rich, declaring that measures must be undertaken to
enhance the lot of the middle class directly. But what measures he has in mind
remain a mystery.
Details would be nice
So, is he going to intervene in
free market forces of supply and demand in the labor market to raise salaries
and wages? If so, how? What will this do to the competitiveness of Israeli
firms? Will higher taxes on the rich precipitate a flight of capital to milder
fiscal climates? Will tax increases drive large corporations away, or constrict
foreign investment? How would all this impact the middle class and their
welfare? Of course, to address these questions one needs to have an
understanding of economics which Lapid confesses he hasn’t.
confronted by Rose on his acknowledged lack of understanding of economics, he
blithely shrugged off the question, asserting that he doesn’t need to be an
economist, since he has hundreds of economists working for him. According to
Lapid, all he has to do is chart a course for them and make decisions to ensure
that course is taken.
At first sight, this might sound reasonable, but of
course it begs the question of how he can evaluate competing proposals and their
possible consequences, without having some grasp of economic fundamentals?
Appalling lack of understanding
But it is perhaps in the field of foreign policy
that Lapid exhibits his greatest ineptitude. For despite his hard-nosed
posturing, his proposals seem to be, at best, a mixture of naiveté and myopia.
According to him, Israel shouldn’t seek recognition from the potential
Palestinian state; he proclaims with typical brash inanity: “We recognize Israel
as a Jewish state. We don’t need authorization from anyone else.”
course might be a position of some merit, if one was not seeking accommodation
with the Palestinians, but is totally senseless, if, as Lapid claims, he is
devoted to the peace process. For withholding recognition of Israel as the
Jewish state is not tactical posturing by the Palestinians but strategic
positioning. By refusing such recognition, the Palestinians would preserve the
rationale for continuing to press for “right of return” for millions of
Palestinians-Arabs into to a “non-Jewish” state.
By forgoing the demand
for this recognition, Lapid, in his naiveté or myopia, is complicit in
facilitating future demands for the implementation of a ruinous
But incredibly, Lapid seems to believe that the
Palestinians have already relinquished their demand for “return.”
Rose interview, he bases this astonishing claim on a single statement on Israeli
TV by Mahmoud Abbas, ne’er to be repeated, that he understands that he will not
return to his former home in Safed. Not only does it require extraordinary doses
of naiveté, myopia and self-delusion to believe that such a statement would be
binding on the Palestinians as a whole, but it was denied almost immediately –
including by Abbas himself, who reiterated that his statement “did not mean
giving up the right of return.”
Indeed, one day after the interview, none
other than Abbas’s personal spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, declared that its
“purpose was... to influence Israeli public opinion.”
Sure seems to have
worked on Lapid!!
I could go on – but I am sure you are starting to get my
Something very basic and very bad
The phenomenon of Yair Lapid’s
rise to political prominence points to something very basic and very bad in the
nation’s body politic. It epitomizes the grave malaise afflicting Israel
politics, starkly illustrating the dysfunctional superficiality that has come to
The challenges confronting the country are
To contend successfully with them we need leaders of substance
and depth. Lapid does not appear to fit the bill – not by a long
Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.net) is the founder and executive
director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.