Two weeks ago, two groups of people gathered at Ben-Gurion Airport: The
country’s top political echelon, who had come to welcome US President Barack
Obama, and a second group of ordinary citizens who were standing in line to have
their picture taken with Yair Lapid as the other ministers looked on with
This sort of thing hasn’t happened here for quite some time. The
most similar occurrence was with Binyamin Netanyahu when he came back to Israel
in 1988 after a successful term as ambassador to the UN. Bibi was almost unknown
then; he was the brother of the famous war hero Yoni Netanyahu, and succeeded in
drawing quite a large number of activists to the Likud.
turned into the most popular Likud politician practically
Netanyahu and Lapid are very similar, but are also completely
They both speak excellent English, are very familiar with the
US and are extremely charismatic. They both know how to formulate short and
catchy slogans and identify trends in public opinion.
And yet, their
differences are more profound than you might imagine.
Lapid is a prince
of Tel Aviv.
Netanyahu is a prince of Jerusalem.
Both of them are
sworn lovers of American culture, but from two opposing sides: Lapid is a
Democrat and Netanyahu is a Republican.
Lapid has no formal education,
but has exceptionally developed emotional intelligence. Netanyahu is highly
educated and quite knowledgeable, but lacks any emotional intelligence
In theory, both of them grew up within right-wing
Netanyahu’s right-wing ideology is real, inherited from his
father, never to be questioned. Lapid’s father, the late Tommy Lapid, was
considered to be on the Right most of his life, but moved toward the Center in
his later years, as has his son.
Netanyahu built his career on rightwing
ideology, on the prophecies of doom and destruction, on a worldview in which he
believes that a second Holocaust could descend upon the Jewish people at each
Lapid created an agenda for solving social and educational
conflicts and improving life. Politics are less important to him, whereas
Israel’s identity and character are at the fore.
Lapid is an optimist.
Netanyahu is a pessimist. Netanyahu connects with the Right. Lapid connects with
all Israelis. Netanyahu has yet to do one straight or simple thing. So far,
Lapid has done everything that way: straight and simply.
Lapid is an
optimistic and humane version of Netanyahu, with many fewer tricks, and without
adviser Nathan Eshel or wife Sara.
At the beginning of the week, Lapid
held a Finance Ministry meeting to talk about planned budget cuts. After the
meeting, he reported what happened in it on his Facebook page. He’s the
minister, and also the journalist.
It’s an advantage, but it’s also
The advantage is that instead of having to search through a
variety of sources in order to understand a thing or two about what happened in
the meeting, the minister himself put the full description on Facebook in real
time. What an amazing world. He sits there in the meeting and at the same time
reports about it. Is this good or bad? The truth is – I don’t know
Lapid has been one of the most popular Israelis for quite some
And now, according to polls, he is the most popular politician – by
But he should not get addicted to this.
From what happened
after the ministry meeting, it seems like Lapid is having a hard time weaning
himself from his previous life. Yes, he gave that lifestyle up: the high salary,
the perks, and the relaxed hours. But he has had a much harder time giving up
being a columnist, his desire to please his many fans, and being
Lapid believes that the middle class is what’s holding the country
It is the heart, the motor, and the hope. The almost fanatical
adoration that he has been enjoying recently wherever he goes could disappear at
a moment’s notice. He just needs to ask Bibi. This happened to him a few times
I hope that Lapid finds the strength not to blindly follow fame.
That he gathers the strength to prevent the inevitable smugness from penetrating
his nervous system. That he preserves his human dignity, humility and common
sense. That he continues to strive to achieve his goals, for they are
Oh, and yes – he should occasionally report to us during ministry
meetings too. That would be pretty cool.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.