Politics: Coming soon to a Knesset near you?

The next election may be a few years away, but political jockeying for the top spots has already begun. And speculation is rife about who is leading the pack.

yair lapid 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
yair lapid 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The current Knesset is barely a year old. The next election is likely to be advanced from its currently set date of October 22, 2013, but it is nonetheless still far away.
However, it is never too early for potential candidates to start flexing their political muscles. And speculation, even if premature, is already rife and legitimate.
Ahead of last year’s election, several public figures entered politics and helped their parties attract support. The Likud scored the biggest windfall, bringing in former IDF chief of General Staff Moshe Ya’alon, former ministers Bennie Begin and Dan Meridor and television personality Tzipi Hotovely.
Kadima drafted former IDF spokesman Nachman Shai, Israel Beiteinu recruited former minister Uzi Landau, ambassador to the US Danny Ayalon and two journalists who were also models and Labor, Meretz, and Habayit Hayehudi each offered journalists: Daniel Ben-Simon, Nitzan Horowitz and Uri Orbach respectively.
The next election will likely feature a similar crop of generals, journalists and political has-beens-who-might-be-again.
Following is a list of 10 well-known public figures who might grace a political list some time soon – if not in the next Knesset election, then the one after it.
Yair Lapid: A recent skit on the popular political satire program Eretz Nehederet depicted Lapid denying that he was entering politics, while a potential slogan and jingle for a new party he could lead hovered and chimed in the background.
Lapid can only blame himself for initiating the speculation when he told interviewer Ilana Dayan several months ago that he would make a decision about whether to run at the last minute ahead of the next election.
A year and a half after the death of his father, Shinui leader Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, matters of religion and state have risen to the forefront again without a major politician in the Knesset who hoists the secularist banner. When a scandal arose over the cabinet’s decision to move a planned emergency room at Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center due to ancient graves found at the site, it was Yair Lapid who wrote a commentary condemning the move on the front page of Yediot Aharonot.
Lapid is under pressure to follow his father into the political arena. People who have spoken to him said 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. A Lapid-led party would win 14 seats in the next general election and would become the country’s third largest party after Likud and Kadima, according to a Shvakim Panorama poll broadcast last month on Israel Radio. He also is sought after by Kadima.
But Lapid has a lot to lose as the anchor of the top-rated Channel 2 news magazine Yoman and the author of the leading column in the weekend magazine of the largest circulation newspaper, Yediot Aharonot. He could decide to remain on the sidelines for another election and enter politics later on.
Aryeh Deri: The former Shas leader and Lapid have nothing in common other than admiration for Lapid’s father, their status as the subject of political speculation and the fact that current MKs are so scared of them that they drafted laws in an attempt to prevent them from running.
The Lapid bill, sponsored by Kadima’s Ronit Tirosh, would institute a cooling off period for journalists before they could enter politics. The Deri bill, initiated by Hotovely, would prevent convicts who served sentences for crimes involving moral turpitude from fielding their candidacy.
United Torah Judaism announced this week that it would veto the Deri bill. Other legislation has prevented him from entering politics until now, but the last of it will expire later this year, making Deri a plum political free agent.
A return to Shas is unlikely while Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef remains alive, because Deri’s former post at the head of the party is taken by Yosef’s loyal servant Eli Yishai. Deri could decide to form a new party or join with one of Shas’s rivals.
THE MOST interesting speculation surrounds the possibility that Kadima council chairman Haim Ramon will draft Deri to his party, which is a lot more secular and Ashkenazi than it used to be and could use some affirmative action. Deri has been close with Ramon for years and the two were seen talking this week at the funeral of the father of Austrian billionaire Martin Schlaff.
While Yishai was not invited to speak at the prestigious Herzliya Conference, Deri was there and made headlines by lashing out at the values of reality TV in a speech seen as laying the groundwork for his political comeback.
Dan Halutz: The former IDF chief of General Staff has a good reason to enter politics – a lot of axes to grind. He is angry at a lot of politicians for their treatment of him when he was on the job and when he was forced to resign after the publication of the Winograd Report that investigated the Second Lebanon War.
While Halutz takes some revenge in his book that just came out, he still has a lot left in him and he has said in closed conversations that he intends to enter politics after a Knesset-mandated three-year cooling-off period ends in a few months.
Halutz is close to former prime minister Ehud Olmert and has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Shaul Mofaz near the top of the Kadima list if Mofaz quits politics following another unsuccessful challenge to Kadima head Tzipi Livni. He also seemed to make a point to be seen having coffee with Lapid a few months ago.
Gabi Ashkenazi: The current chief of General Staff was unceremoniously shown the door Tuesday by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who told him his tenure would not be extended and released it to the press, even though Ashkenazi had not sought an extension.
Speculation about why Barak made the move has focused on his anger at reports that he was considering an extension and paranoia that Ashkenazi’s associates were behind them. Others have reported a difference of opinion about whether Israel should attack Iran.
But perhaps what really set off Barak was a poll published in Ma’ariv two weeks ago that found that Ashkenazi would bring Labor more mandates than him as head of the party. The poll was ridiculous, considering that the earliest Ashkenazi could enter politics is February 2014, but Barak has never tolerated potential rivals.
The professionalism of the IDF under Ashkenazi and his lack of interviews have made him popular. He will undoubtedly be sought after by multiple parties in the election after the next one.
Ofer Eini: The powerful head of the Histadrut labor federation could be drafted to head Labor ahead of the next election if current leadership candidates Isaac Herzog and Avishay Braverman fail to resuscitate the party. Eini could restore Labor’s former image as a socioeconomic party, and he would not make Amir Peretz’s mistake of accepting the Defense portfolio.
Alon Pinkas: The former consul-general in New York ran for the Knesset with Labor two elections ago, and he claims to not be running now. But he sure sounds like a politician when he blasts Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who promised him the post of ambassador to the United Nations and then reneged.
Kadima could use a foreign policy expert to bolster its slate in the next election in a campaign that could focus on slamming Netanyahu for burning bridges with the country’s allies around the world. Pinkas’s hatred for Netanyahu makes him a perfect fit.
Elazar Shtern: He is an outspoken former general who wears a kippa but is unrestrained in his criticism of religious Zionism’s current leadership. He is anti-haredi and articulate. Those qualifications could make him a sought after candidate for any party in the center-left of the political map.
Ophir Paz-Pines and Haim Ramon: Two former ministerswho have taken a time out from the Knesset, but no one really believesthey are gone permanently. Neither has ever held a real job outsidepolitics. Their departures were seen as tactical moves en route tobigger and brighter things in their political careers. While Ramon isentrenched in Kadima, Paz-Pines is a free agent who could join Lapid orbe part of another new political framework formed on the left.
Shimon Peres: This list would not be completewithout the most immortal man in Israeli politics. Yes, he is presidentfor another five years. And yes, he is 86. But at 91, he could besummoned by a party to be its candidate for prime minister. And yes, heprobably would not be able to say no.