Grumpy Old Man: Beyond the script

What we have here, essentially, is a one-man party with plenty of window dressing: people from all walks of life, two or three already known to the wider public, but all – including Lapid – complete political newbies.

Yair Lapid addressing supporters in post election speech 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
Yair Lapid addressing supporters in post election speech 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
T eddy Kollek, the ex-mayor of Jerusalem who died just over six years ago at age 95, was a great man – so great that, unique among Israel’s ex-mayors, he is buried on Mount Herzl along with many of those who led the country.
He had his detractors (ask any dyed-in-the-wool Revisionist), but even on jaunts through Mahaneh Yehuda, probably the right-wing city’s most rightwing stronghold, there was nary a vendor who wouldn’t grab the stocky, Mapainik-to-the-bone mayor and plant a big, wet kiss on one of his ruddy cheeks.
Kollek was the very embodiment of Jerusalem and, for many, until his last, unsuccessful run for office – when, old and tired, he pushed himself through the grind almost solely for the sake of those who genuinely feared for the city’s future under the stewardship of anyone who was less of a legend – it was simply unimaginable that there could even be anyone else.
When I worked for him in his last year as mayor he almost always had a clean desk. He knew how to choose people and delegate authority. It left time for him to do the really important thing in running his city: be Teddy Kollek.
We need someone like that on the national stage.
IN THE next Netanyahu government, Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid party, 19-strong in the Knesset, will provide the critical leftward tug this country needs. (Not that Lapid, with his views on security and diplomacy, is on the Left, but relative to our prime minister he is.) Notice I write “his views” – because those views, like the people who were on Lapid’s slate and the order they were in, were pretty much all his. What we have here essentially is a one-man party with plenty of window dressing: people from all walks of life, two or three already known to the wider public, but all – including Lapid – complete political newbies. Like many of his faction-mates, the head of Yesh Atid will bring a lot of talent to the table. First and foremost he is a journalist, having been one since his army days when he was a reporter for the IDF weekly Bemahaneh. Most recently, he wrote the engaging (and usually spot-on) lead column for Yediot Aharonot’s popular weekend magazine supplement, and hosted Channel 2’s closely watched Friday evening Ulpan Shishi news magazine program, where he was known to ask politicians highly relevant and often uncomfortable questions.
He’s also an author, playwright and actor and was even an amateur boxer.
Aside from the boxing and theater, Shelly Yacimovich did pretty much the same before entering politics in 2006, where she elbowed her way up from being a Labor mid-bencher to become party leader just under two years ago. In doing so, however, she crafted for herself a highly regarded political reputation, primarily by pushing through a long list of highly relevant legislation – as have othe r ex- journal i s t s cur r ent ly in the Kne s s e t , among them Meretz’s Nitzan Horowitz, Labor’s (and formerly Kadima’s) Nachman Shai and Bayit Yehudi’s Uri Orbach.
Whereas Yacimovich made her political bones before pushing front and center, Lapid parachuted straight into a position where he’s now negotiating directly with Binyamin Netanyahu over which top portfolio he’ll be given and which portfolios will go to Yesh Atid compatriots.
Unfortunately, I have a nagging sense that Lapid might be a bit too wet behind the ears to be entrusted with a high-level position at so delicate a time. He brings with him perhaps too much of a reputation as a well-scripted pretty boy, from a highly practiced gaze and well-cadenced delivery to a sartorial preference for hip black-on-black.
Many complain that he’s a bit too full of himself even for politics and is something of an arriviste version of Netanyahu, who has long been dogged by accusations of having an outsized ego and an even bigger chunk of arrogance. I CAN’T help but get the feeling that so far Yair Lapid is best only at being Yair Lapid. This was borne out by post-election comments as part of a superb report on his campaign by Ben Shani that was broadcast earlier this week on Channel 2’s acclaimed Uvda program.
“It’s not of secondary importance to be able to deliver messages,” Lapid told Shani three days after Israel voted. “At the end of the day, politics also has to do with the ability to unify people around ideas and then make them act.”
Which is all well and good. But is Lapid capable of putting ideas into motion, especially in an arena where people who were much more capable got eaten alive? “Netanyahu has a very ‘correct’ biography,” Lapid said in a segment of the report that was filmed a few weeks before the election, while he was driving himself to one more in an endless litany of campaign stops. “General Staff Reconnaissance Unit, a certain excellent university in America, a first job, a second and so on. This, of course, deserves respect. With me it’s not like that.
I have a more disorganized and eclectic biography, but at least it interests me.”
As if that’s what really counts.
Finally, at the end of the post-election segment during which Lapid was interviewed in the quiet of the study at his Ramat Aviv home, Shani asked him: “As of today, are you running in the next election for prime minister?” “I suppose so,” he quickly replied.
“Will you win in the next election?” Without hesitation and with a clear element of nonchalance, Lapid narrowed his eyes a bit and tilted his head slightly from side to side, the way he often does as part of his polished, on-themoney delivery, and said again, “I suppose so.”
He can, of course, always grow. Others have risen just as meteorically. Witness Barack Obama. But there’s always the untidy matter of the fate of Israel’s centrist parties. They generally start off with a bang but end suddenly and always prematurely. The end, too, can come with a bang, but more often it’s a whimper so silent that the party merely slips gently into the political night, becoming in the process nothing more than a footnote to the country’s relatively short, but exceedingly turbulent, history.
Remember the Democratic Movement for Change? Remember the Center Party? Remember Shinui? (It was led by another man named Lapid.) And over the past year, who didn’t watch the almost embarrassing disintegration of Kadima? Last time around it garnered 28 Knesset seats, this time just two.
It’s enough to make you want to grab this sovery Tel Avivian upstart and shake him a bit until he either comes down to earth or skulks off to treat a stiff neck.
WHICH BRINGS me back to Kollek. Here was a man who, by virtue of his unfettered charisma and physical and verbal bluntness, could get away with it. He had the pre-statehood street cred, but he also had that clean desk. He barely had to lift a finger to run the city. The phone, yes; his often gruff voice, yes.
But his ability to delegate authority and responsibility to others more qualified for the specific task at hand freed him up to do what he did best.
So far, it seems that all Yair Lapid can do is be Yair Lapid – which, at this point in his political career, is not very promising. But then I remember Teddy Kollek and find that there’s something in Lapid (and a lot in Netanyahu) that makes me want to believe him.
From what I saw of his study on Uvda, he should start by learning how to clear his desk.