Inside Out: Yair Lapid and the potential for change

Lapid is not merely a fresh and “clean” public figure whose sole promise is to introduce a “new and different kind of politics.”

Social justice protest 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Social justice protest 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Yair Lapid – a playwright, poet, translator, actor, columnist, novelist, television host and newscaster – announced Sunday he was resigning as the anchor of Channel 2’s Friday evening news to set out on a “new path.”
Conventional wisdom, fed to some extent by statements made by Lapid, is that this new path will involve forming a new political party that will run in the next general election.
According to reports in the Israeli media earlier this week, Lapid has held a number of meetings with political consultants, former politicians and government employees, including former prime minister Ehud Olmert and former chief of staff of the Prime Minister’s Bureau under Ariel Sharon, Uri Shani.
Lapid’s entry into the arena is likely to change the political landscape significantly.
Primarily and perhaps most immediately he poses a threat to Kadima, which polls indicate is projected to suffer most as a result. But the appearance of a new party in his image could potentially undercut the power of the Likud and other parties as well, reshaping political discourse and shifting the balance of power.
Unlike any other player on the political scene, Lapid has an opportunity to tap into the disgruntlement of middle class Israelis. The same Israelis who, while they might support the Likud, Israel Beiteinu, Labor, Kadima and other parties on cardinal issues came out in droves last summer to protest the reigning division of economic, social and political power and government priorities in Israel. The “social injustice” was created by those very same established parties over the past two decades, during which all held varying degree of power. Lapid, who is not associated with any of them, can expect to garner a great deal of popular support as a consequence.
Lapid has spent years framing himself as a middle-of-the-road Israeli who believes in the good of his country and is generally proud of it. In his columns, first in Ma’ariv then in Yediot Aharonot, as well as in his capacity as a prime time talk-show host and news anchor, Lapid has come across as a thoughtful, tolerant and broad-minded individual. While positioning himself as an unabashedly Zionist secular Israeli Jew, he has been careful to steer clear of the anti-haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and otherwise divisive rhetoric that was the hallmark of his late father, former justice minister and veteran journalist Yosef Lapid.
Equally importantly, he has refrained from taking a stand on the fate of the territories. Rather, Lapid’s approach has been more pragmatic than ideological. He has acknowledged that the failure of peace efforts is not solely Israel’s fault, but at the same time has argued that the occupation, and the corruption and division it has sown in Israeli society, are ultimately politically unsustainable.
This approach is likely to resonate with the many Israelis who are not ideologically motivated to keep Judea and Samaria under Israeli control, but who nevertheless have doubts about our “peace partners’” intentions. In short, his is a pragmatic approach shared by many who voted for coalition parties.
OVER THE years, Lapid has addressed, in columns and public appearances, the evolution of Israeli society into its current “tribal” state, the dangers such tribalism poses and the ways in which society must change if it wishes to survive. He has advocated the creation of a new social compact in which there is mutual respect for the needs, preferences and desires of the various components of Israeli society – secular, haredi, traditional and national-religious Jews as well as Arabs and Druse.
In a recent lecture he gave at the haredi college in Kiryat Ono, for example, Lapid said that the haredim could no longer leave responsibility for “state” affairs to “the Israelis,” but rather had to assume their responsibility as equals.
That, too, is a message that resonates powerfully not only with last summer’s protestors, but also many members of the formerly marginalized “tribes” who wish to play an active role in shaping Israeli society as a whole.
Unlike some of the retired generals who entered the political arena before him with great fanfare and enormous public support that quickly faded, such as Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, Avigdor Kahalani and Yitzhak Mordechai, Lapid is a charismatic figure and a gifted speaker. For years, he has weighed in on a broad spectrum of issues that concern all Israeli citizens.
Lapid, as such, is not merely a fresh and “clean” public figure whose sole promise is to introduce a “new and different kind of politics.”
Yair Lapid’s appearance on the political scene is a welcome development that has the potential to produce real change.
The writer is a veteran Israeli writer and translator.