Yair Lapid and Isaac Herzog.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid may be proof for Henry Kissinger’s famous statement that “Israel has no foreign policy; it has only a domestic policy.”
At a time when Israel does not have a designated foreign minister, Lapid has spent the last year-plus trying to fill that vacuum, acting as a self-appointed Shadow Foreign Minister, jet-setting around the world to make Israel’s case. Whether it’s accusing the UN Human Rights Commission of bias against Israel in Geneva or calling Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom an anti-Semite in Stockholm, Lapid is there, contributing his trademark charisma to Israel’s defense.
He’s also put pen to paper for Israel, publishing op-eds such as one in Foreign Policy hailing the US-Israel alliance during negotiations on the Memorandum of Understanding for Israel to receive aid.
For Lapid, all politics really is local – even if they take him around the world.
While Lapid has shown serious talent in this the foreign affairs arena – his past as a professional writer and TV presenter clearly don’t hurt his ability to compellingly argue Israel’s side – he has proven to be quite savvy in internal politics in choosing this as his area of focus. His actions fall firmly into the Israeli consensus, with all but the Arab parties and the far-left basically able to agree with what Lapid says on his world travels, such that he’s able to attract new voters or those who abandoned his party in the last election.
The plan is working: Yesh Atid is steadily rising in the polls, even surpassing the Likud to be the largest party in the Knesset in one poll. Israelis are apparently even willing to forgive him for being the MK who missed the most days of work in the last year (he responded that it’s because of his travels to defend Israel), and for his disingenuous-seeming appeals to religious voters after notoriously baiting haredi politicians in his time as finance minister (2013-2014). Whether he’ll be the next prime minister or not, or if this poll is just a fluke, years before the next election is set to take place, remains to be seen.
With all the attention Lapid has been getting, you’d be forgiven for thinking Israel has two opposition leaders, even if, according to the law, there’s only one – the head of the largest opposition faction in the Knesset. That would be Zionist Union chairman and Labor leader Isaac Herzog.
Herzog has had an eventful year, and has another one on the way.
The opposition leader kicked off the 2016 controversially, saying in January that the two-state solution is unrealistic at the moment and bucking 20 years of left-wing Orthodoxy. Of course, what Herzog meant was that the government needs to take unilateral steps to be ready to move in that direction, not that he was totally abandoning the idea of two states for two nations, but he definitely got people talking.
The rest of Herzog’s year has been overshadowed by a will-they-won’tthey not seen since the likes of Sam and Diane of TV’s Cheers. He and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been courting one another on and off for months. It started with rumors that both sides denied, until they eventually admitted that Herzog was close to sealing the deal and entering the coalition with Labor. But then, as Herzog waffled, nervous about a mutiny in Labor’s ranks, Avigdor Liberman and Yisrael Beytenu swooped in and nab the Defense portfolio. Labor MKs were outraged, but rumors of a flirtation between Herzog and Netanyahu remain persistent, and we just may see Foreign Minister Isaac Herzog in the coming months.
If Herzog doesn’t manage to make his way into the coalition, he’ll have a tough year ahead. The Labor leadership primary is set for next summer, the party has a reputation for chopping off its own head on a regular basis, and MKs Shelly Yacimovich and Erel Margalit are breathing down his neck.
With all the internal politics going on, it’s no wonder that Lapid – supreme dictator of a party with no primaries and a list he handpicked – has more time for scoring points with the public, making him seem more like the opposition leader sometimes..