A year and a half after the death of Shinui leader Yosef (Tommy) Lapid, his son Yair, who followed him into journalism, is under tremendous pressure to also follow him into the political arena, sources close to Lapid said Thursday.
Yair Lapid anchors the top-rated Channel 2 newsmagazine "Yoman" and writes the leading column in the weekend magazine of the largest circulation newspaper Yediot Aharonot. People who have spoken to him said that leaving those plum jobs would be a great risk, but he is concerned about the future of the country, and he believes he may have to take the plunge into politics to really change things.
"He has received countless requests to enter politics, but I don't know if he will give up everything to do it," said former Shinui MK Avraham Poraz, who was Yosef Lapid's number two in Shinui. "For him to do this at the height of his journalism career would be dangerous. His father was already an old man when he entered politics. But Yair definitely has the necessary skills [for politics]."
A political official who spoke to Lapid about entering politics said that he enjoys being the consensus figure he is now and is concerned about losing that status.
"He doesn't want to be a gimmick," the official said, "But he is the kind of charismatic leader who can really advance the civil agenda.
"He's like his father, but without the racism and the bourgeoisie economic policies that turned people off."
Lapid himself told interviewee Ilana Dayan recently that he would decide whether to run for Knesset "one minute before the elections."
Kadima and Likud MKs responded by sponsoring a bill this week requiring a 6-12-month cooling off period before journalists enter politics, as required of IDF generals.
Channel 10 reporter Nadav Perry reported Wednesday that Lapid had discussed politics over the last few weeks with MKs and several public officials, including Herzliya Mayor Yael German, Bat Yam Mayor Shlomi Lachiani, Hebrew University vice president Carmi Gillon, and Tzohar founder Rabbi Shai Piron.
Meretz and Labor rebel MKs and many public figures and grassroots organizations around the country are working behind the scenes to lay the foundations of a new party on the Left that would advance a civil agenda as Shinui did when it reached a peak of 15 seats under Yosef Lapid's leadership.
While former MK Ophir Paz-Pines and MK Nitzan Horowitz are also being sought to play major roles in the new party, the younger Lapid's presence is considered key. Recent fighting between haredim and secular activists in Jerusalem and other cities, this week's squabbles in the Knesset over matters of religion and state and the poor shape of Labor and Meretz have all given the efforts to form a new party momentum.
"Sooner or later, a secular party will arise as Shinui did," Poraz said. "There isn't a single party in the Knesset that struggles for the secularists nowadays. We lost our votes to Kadima and those voters aren't happy with Kadima's behavior on religion and state. In politics, when there's a need, someone comes to provide it."
The Hiddush organization, which bills itself as a non-denominational partnership for religious freedom, has taken polls that showed two-thirds of the public consistently support changes that advance religious freedom and pluralism. Hiddush CEO Rabbi Uri Regev said that a party with a civil agenda could even attract the support of modern Orthodox voters who are just as troubled as the secular by issues like retroactively canceling conversions and restricting women to the back of buses.
"It is clear to us that there is tremendous desire for a party that supports religious freedom and equality," Regev said. "The angst among the public is palpable. There's no doubt that Yair Lapid, by virtue of his writing, his public credibility and his responsible and balanced positions, holds great promise for many people. He is not anti-religious. He cares about Jewish affairs in an open-minded and pluralistic way."