The West Bank robber

The Left’s hopes for Lapid are not simply about peace.

yair lapid 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
yair lapid 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

The day after Israel’s iconic journalist Yair Lapid announced he was quitting his lucrative job at Channel 2 to run for Knesset, former soccer star Eric Cantona declared he was throwing his hat into the ring for France’s upcoming presidential election. While Cantona is only running for PR purposes, and will probably gather a minimal amount of the votes, Lapid is expected to capture 15 of the Knesset’s 120 seats, becoming the next government’s kingmaker.

Besides his anticlerical views (inherited from his late father and former journalist turned politician Tommy Lapid), Yair Lapid has no platform. The fact that, in Israel, a prospective politician does not need a clear platform in order to become a major player in the Knesset goes to show what is wrong with Israel’s voting system.

Israel has no district elections for the Knesset. The entire country itself constitutes a single district. Voters don’t select district representatives but political parties whose number of seats in the Knesset is proportional to the amount of votes received by the parties at the polls (which is why this voting system is known as “proportional representation”). Since Israel has no district elections, providing viable solutions to constituents’ daily lives is not a criterion for gathering support. Rather, the most critical ingredient for getting voters’ attention is simply fame (Noam Schalit, the father of Israel’s most famous kidnapped soldier, also announced this week that he would run for a place on the Labor Party list).

Lapid’s meteoric rise in the polls is yet another confirmation that Israel should replace proportional representation with majority representation based on district elections. Rather than cowardly trying to prevent Lapid from running for Knesset with a tailored-made law that would impose a one year cooling-off period on journalists who decide to go into politics, our lawmakers should reform a voting system that encourages populism and eschews accountability.

But the “Lapid Effect” also confirms the parochialism of the Israeli electorate and the hypocrisy of the Israeli Left.

Why, after all, vote for a “Lapid Party” that would merely be the repetition of past failures? Israel has had many “centrist” parties that have attempted to challenge both Likud and Labor: “Dash” in 1977, the Center Party in 1999, “Shinui” in 2003 and even Kadima in 2006. None of those parties lasted, because they did not provide an ideological and practical alternative to the authentic divide between Right and Left – a divide that stems from two opposing readings of human nature, as well as man’s ability to change reality.

As for the Left’s warm welcome of Lapid’s decision, it goes to show what the Left in Israel really cares about. After all, Lapid is no peacenik and no socialist. He is even an avowed Zionist. A Tel-Aviv bourgeois, Lapid is economically conservative. Though he favors withdrawing from the West Bank, he no longer believes that doing so will bring peace. In a column he wrote for Yediot Aharonot on June 13, 2006, Lapid admitted that the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza had nothing to do with peace or with demography. Rather, its purpose was “to teach the settlers a lesson.”

So, if Lapid does not believe in peace, socialism or multiculturalism, why is the Left so excited about the power he would likely wield in the Knesset? Because what the Israeli Left really cares about is neither peace, nor socialism or multiculturalism. What it really cares about is getting out of the West Bank. And Lapid may help attain that goal. This is why Yediot Aharonot columnist Sima Kadmon wrote on January 9 that “Lapid must be the man who will manage to put an end to the prominence that the Right has enjoyed for too long.” The same way that Tommy Lapid’s 15 MKs enabled former prime minister Ariel Sharon to “teach a lesson” to the Jews of Gaza, the Israeli Left hopes that Yair Lapid’s expected 15 MKs will force (or enable) Israel’s next prime minister to “teach a lesson” to the Jews of Judea and Samaria.

As the Hebrew saying goes: “We’ve seen that movie before.” And there is a reason why the Israeli Left wants to watch that movie again. Rather than becoming a politician, Lapid would in fact turn into nothing more than an actor – just like Cantona after he left Manchester United.

The writer is an Israeli academic currently running in the Likud’s primaries.