A week ago, Rabbi Shai Piron, the national-religious resident of the Judea and Samaria town of Oranit, was reported to have said that Naftali Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi was a “good and worthy”
party that he would vote for if he wasn’t already playing second fiddle to Yair Lapid’s party, Yesh Atid. Bizarrely, however, only a few days later in an interview on the Knesset Channel
, Piron called Bennett’s annexation plan “delusional,”
further stating that it "denies international assumptions regarding a two-state solution and leads us to danger."
Mixed messages are part and parcel of the Israeli electoral system, with politicians making categorical statements only to overturn them the very next day. Are Piron’s contradictory statements reflective of the doublespeak trend prevalent among political parties or merely indicative of vague policies? Either way, it doesn’t bode well for the centrist bloc.
Ideally, Yair Lapid’s self-described “Center-Center” party should present the perfect balance between the Right and Left blocs that this country needs so desperately. The danger though, is that Yesh Atid is just another example of a neither-here-nor-there party that is doomed to fail like so many centrist platforms before it.
Around the same time as Piron’s curious endorsement of Bayit Yehudi, Tzipi Livni called on Labor head Shelly Yacimovich, and Yesh Atid frontrunner Lapid to encourage a common call for people to vote any of the three parties from the centrist bloc. Apparently motivated by the fact that between 30 and 40 percent of voters who identify with the Center/Left may not come out to vote in a week’s time, the idea was to present a united front in opposition to an extreme rightwing-led government.
Yet Lapid and Yacimovich’s joint statement following the meeting claimed that Livni’s call was in fact the exact opposite, noting
that the Hatnua head “continues to deceive, divide and damage the efforts to create a viable alternative.”
With Livni saying she will only join government if there are more centrist voices and if she’s prime minister, and Yacimovich also categorically stating that she will either lead the country or lead the opposition, Lapid is the only one left for the defeatist centrist bloc to pin their hopes on for introducing balance to Israel’s 19th Knesset. The Jerusalem Post
visited Lapid’s home to get an up-close-and-personal impression of the man that may end up representing everyone to the left of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the next government.
The first thing that struck me upon entering his house was its warmth. I’m not sure why, but I was expecting something more along the lines of minimalist-chic, with chrome and glass furnishings occasionally punctuated by the odd fake lily. Perhaps that assumption was drawn from a feeling that this celebrity, who has adorned our television screens for so long, cannot possibly offer anything to the political world other than precocious good looks and suave. Having said that, it might not hurt to inject Israel’s political arena with a bit of Clooney-esque charm to combat the current personas—think, Liberman—who are the faces that represent the Jewish State to the world at large.
But Lapid’s home, with floor to ceiling books and burnt umber furniture, painted a different picture. Albeit in the heart of the exclusive Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Aviv Gimmel, the Lapid home bespeaks of old-fashioned, hardworking middle class-ship — precisely the sector that Yesh Atid strives to represent and refashion as the mainstream of Israeli society. “We have a crisis of identity within our society,” said Lapid. “We used to be a country in which there was a very obvious mainstream; of the kind of people who felt a connection with the Bible but who were also part of the western world.”
There are, of course, a few items in his house that aren’t exactly “mainstream.” On the wall is a photograph of Lapid’s late father, Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, and US President Barack Obama having dinner during Obama’s visit to Israel in 2006.
The picture stirs a barrage of musings; For many people in the States and Israel, both the younger Lapid and Obama burst onto the political scene as a breath of fresh air, riding on the backs of hope-building slogans like Yesh Atid’s “Things can change” and the Democrat’s now-buried mantra, “Yes we can.” Yet Lapid is acutely aware that being a “refreshing change” can’t galvanize a campaign forever, as Obama learned the hard way. “Now people are now only preoccupied with Obama’s achievements, what he did and didn’t do,” said Lapid. Lapid concedes that there is “room to be worried” both regarding the impact of Netanyahu’s strained relationship with Obama and the latter’s controversial nomination of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense.
Does Lapid think his own celebrity impacted his campaign? “I hope so. It certainly makes things easier on the first step. But after couple months, if you don’t have right ideas and the right ability to operate, it won’t work.” He added, however, that most people who know him well know him as a writer and not just a TV personality. It is also in this role that he hopes to be remembered.
Both Obama and Lapid wrote seminal books on their respective fathers, with the latter topping the UK’s bestseller list. So, is the younger Lapid as adamantly secularist as his father was? “Yes, on a personal basis. But politically it’s a different initiative,” he said. “In the jolly days of [Tommy Lapid’s party] Shinui, it was obviously a combat between religious and secular.” Noting that Number 2 on his list is an Orthodox rabbi, the aforementioned Shai Piron, Lapid insists that playing adversary to the ultra-Orthodox is not his party’s prerogative. “There’s going to be a struggle there, but I’m trying to make sure that this isn’t going to become a religious versus secular combat. I want to find solutions to make it possible to live here together.” That means making sure that haredim share in the burden for army and in the workplace.
Lapid bemoans the perpetual “recreation of virtual coalitions” ahead of elections, and has insisted that he would only be willing to join a moderate government. “I will not go into the government as the fig leaf of a coalition which is constructed from ultra-Orthodox and ultra Right and me. It would be immoral and unwise politically,” he said. Lapid asserts that another ultra-Orthodox, rightwing government will be a catastrophe for Israel. “It will only isolate Israel from international community and will be disastrous in terms of economy. I will do everything in my power to make sure this doesn’t happen.”
He remains tightlipped about who he would like to see in the position of Defense Minister stating, “All I can say is that I don’t want Avigdor Liberman. He’s an irresponsible man and I don’t want him next to red button.”
One week ahead of elections, Lapid came out against the appointment of ministers-without-portfolios, alleging that each “redundant” minister costs tax payers NIS 20 million. He called on other party leaders to commit to refusing to take up such positions from the government claiming, “Those who don't sign the petition will publicly allow political corruption that derives of personal interests, and the public should hold him responsible." The petition, which was posted on Lapid’s Facebook page, is just one of many last ditch attempts by the party to rally in stray voters.
For all the parties this election, Facebook has become both a weapon with which to strike opponents and a virtual megaphone to connect with voters. In the Lapid home, it is Yair’s son, Yoav, who is entrenched in the Facebook battleground. He sits in front of the computer, updating his father’s page. “I’m always suspicious of politicians that can’t convince their own families to participate [in campaigns],” said Lapid. “My son and my wife go all over the country. They are devoted foot soldiers in this very just cause.”
So, can the family man who has already demonstrated startling successes in the fields of journalism, acting, TV presenting and writing, now transfer his skills and conquer in the world of politics? I guess we’ll find out soon enough.