(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid is behaving as if he was the leader of the Opposition rather than of the third largest (or smallest) opposition parliamentary group. Yesh Atid has less than half the Knesset seats of the Zionist Camp (11:24), and two seats less than the Arab List. Yet, Lapid has formed a shadow cabinet, of which only Yesh Atid MKs are members, and he appears to pooh pooh the other opposition leaders.
Lapid has never concealed the fact that he does not want to be identified with the Left (and certainly not with the Arabs), constantly emphasizing that he represents the Center. For this reason he refuses to publicly criticize his successor in the Finance Ministry, Moshe Kahlon, and treats Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman as a member of the same camp, despite the fact that the latter is doing everything in his power to prove that he is to the Right of the Likud. In the Knesset plenum Lapid is seen much more frequently chatting with Avigdor Liberman than with Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog, the Arab List’s Ayman Odeh or Zahava Gal- On of Meretz.
There is nothing wrong with Lapid trying to distinguish himself from the Left. However, the fact that like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu he doesn’t miss an opportunity to express contempt and disparagement for it in his rhetoric might add to his credibility and attractiveness among Right-wing voters, but certainly does not serve him among voters to his Left, without whose support he will never reach his declared goal of becoming prime minister.
In his current rhetoric Lapid frequently mentions the national consensus on various issues on the national agenda, while adding, “At least between the Center and Right – I don’t know about the Left.” He did this last week when he spoke of his self-appointed mission of convincing the Americans and Europeans to oppose the boycott against Israel, insinuating that the Left supports the boycott.
A year-and-a-half ago, when Lapid was finance minister, he wasn’t afraid to admit that Israel’s stalling over talks with the Palestinians, and its settlement policy, were among the causes for the boycott movement against Israel, which – he argued – was certain to have a ruinous effect on the Israeli economy, and the pockets of Israel’s citizens. Today the message is that it all has to do with anti-Semitism, or that “those who stand behind these boycotts are people who suppress whole populations, and kill children from Nigeria to Syria. They should apologize – not we.”
The fact that the real leader of the Opposition is currently in the UK to speak out against the boycott, and that last Friday Herzog dared enter the lion’s den, when he appeared to speak in a forum of students at the London School of Economics, with anti-Israeli demonstrators heckling from outside, doesn’t seem to impress Lapid. Only Lapid impresses Lapid.
Perhaps if Lapid were less arrogant and cocky, and a little more honest, he would choose a different modus operandi. I admit that I find his swaggering demeanor extremely distasteful, and given the fact that our current prime minister suffers from the same affliction, if I were forced to vote for a centrist party, I would certainly opt for Kulanu, if for no other reason than that its leader, Moshe Kahlon, is the exact opposite of arrogant, and his demeanor is modest and congenial. I have no doubt that in these stormy times a modest and congenial leader would serve Israel well, both in the international arena, where Israeli arrogance and cockiness go down badly, and internally, where the flames of the current Kulturkampf are being fed by flamboyant and arrogant rhetoric, coming from figures on both sides.
However, the problem with Lapid is not only one of style. Though I reject his neo-liberal economics, and wish his patriotism were a little less chauvinistic and a little more critical, my differences with him over these issues are ideological. The real problem starts with regard to those issues on which I am in agreement with him, such as that the haredim (ultra-Orthodox) should not be allowed to continue to treat the state as a milk cow, without fully accepting its legitimacy and sovereignty, and without being willing to share in the burden of preserving its defense and economic fortitude.
There is no doubt that the policies Lapid insisted on the government implementing in order to change the status quo in this sphere, when he had the political power to do so in the course of the 19th Knesset, not only failed dismally, but have moved a real solution farther away. Lapid refused to grasp that given the fact that for demographic reasons, and unlike the Arabs, the haredim cannot be kept out of the government on a permanent basis, every piece of legislation he might be able to get through in the absence of the haredim from the coalition could be reversed, to the very last iota and comma, the moment they returned to the coalition. The glee with which Lapid and his team acted in the 19th Knesset only increased the glee with which the haredim have reacted in the 20th.
I happen to believe that a change will eventually take place in the attitude of the haredim toward the State of Israel and their role in it. It will occur due to a generational change. It will occur as a growing number of haredim receive an education that exposes them to macro-economic realities, in addition to micro-economic ones. It will occur because the haredi rabbis are fighting a rearguard battle against the Internet and the social media. It will occur once the haredim stop feeling that the secular society, and especially the Yair Lapids in it, are out to destroy them, and are motivated by blind hatred.
In this stormy country, where all too frequently Cartesian logic does not seem to apply, it is difficult to predict the future. However, given the way Lapid has set about alienating almost all the population groups except for middle class Ashkenazi liberals (he managed to alienate Netanyahu, the haredim, his “brother” Naftali Benett, the “Zoabis” and everyone to his Left), it is difficult to see how he can possibly emerge the winner.
But who knows what can happen. We do not know what will happen in the post-Netanyahu Likud. We do not know whether Kahlon – who has a great advantage over Lapid among moderate Mizrahi voters – will manage to deliver on at least part of the promises he made in the last elections. We do not know who will lead the Labor Party in the next elections – certainly a charismatic retired general could make a difference (it did in the past).
Personally I would be happy to see Lapid follow the footsteps of his father Tommy and vanish from the political scene after two Knesset terms. He is not the man to put Israel back on track and save it from itself. He is not the man Israel so desperately needs.
The writer is a political scientist and a retired Knesset employee.