Who would have thought that the main alternatives to the Left of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be one politician who constantly touts his right-wing credentials and another who not too long ago was a Kulanu minister, voting for the prime minister’s proposals in the most right-wing cabinet in Israel’s history?Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid appeared together with Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett in July, at the inauguration of a rebuilt memorial for three fallen Israeli soldiers in Gush Etzion. When Haaretz reported incorrectly that the memorial was built illegally in an outpost, Lapid boosted himself by fighting the left-wing newspaper that the Right loves to hate, writing that it was legally built on state land.One week later, it was new Labor leader Avi Gabbay’s turn to join Bennett over the Green Line. He made a statement about the need for national unity and ending rifts between sectors by accompanying the Bayit Yehudi leader to a Tisha Be’Av event for religious Zionists in Efrat.Since his July 10 election over seven other candidates, Gabbay has been fighting his party’s staff to devote more of its resources to reaching out to traditional Likud voters from Yavne to Dimona. Gabbay never actually ended his campaign. He is in a different city every night.
Besides Likudniks and religious Zionists, Gabbay has also reached out to the haredim (ultra-Orthodox) by interviewing with haredi radio stations and hiring a full-time haredi adviser. He has encouraged haredim to join the party, which is a tougher sell for Yesh Atid, due to its (mostly incorrect) anti-religious image.Lapid and Gabbay have both realized that they don’t need to campaign on the Left now, because recent elections have proven that it will be in the pocket of whichever candidate is seen as the main alternative to Netanyahu. That means that ironically, the way for Lapid or Gabbay to get the Left is to ignore it and attract the Right.Except for the brief period immediately after Gabbay’s election, when he received a boost that there always is after leadership primaries, polls have shown consistently that Netanyahu’s main opposition in the next election will be Lapid.Seeing this, world leaders and top foreign media have been opening their doors to Lapid the same way they reached out to possible Netanyahu successors in the past. Lapid has acted as a shadow foreign minister. He is going later this month to Washington and New York for meetings with congressmen and Jewish leaders and he will be the keynote speaker in Romania at the main event memorializing Elie Wiesel.Meanwhile, in Israel, he has built up his party to 150 active branches across the country and 420,000 followers on Facebook, proving that unlike the Shinui party of his father, late justice minister Yosef (Tommy) Lapid, Yesh Atid has staying power.While Lapid has shunned offers to run with Labor, an alliance with Kulanu could end up benefiting both parties and could be built just ahead of the next election. Lapid has also met recently with former IDF chiefs of staff Moshe Ya’alon, Benny Gantz, and Gabi Ashkenazi (who is also being wooed by Gabbay). Lapid could offer the number two slot on the party’s list to any of them.That could be what Lapid needs to not only present a formidable alternative to the Likud but also become Israel’s ruling party.
Gabbay wins Israeli Labour Party leadership (credit: REUTERS)