My Word: Prime-time player

Fame, charm and a nice smile will help Lapid get into the Knesset, but being able to shine and survive there is something else altogether.

Yair Lapid 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Yair Lapid 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It’s safe to assume that I have been following Yair Lapid’s career with greater interest than he has been following mine. I read his columns every Friday in the mass-circulation Hebrew tabloid Yediot Aharonot, and I realized that rumors of his imminent move from media personality to political candidate were well-founded, not only because of the change in his writings, but because Yediot recently brought in big-name singer/media presenter Shlomo Artzi. This was clearly to try to prevent a void when Lapid quit.
Although I don’t watch Friday night TV, the one time our paths crossed in person was when he was beginning his television career, on Channel 1, with an entertainment program which might as well have been called The Yair Lapid Show, but was officially called Finishing the Week.
It was 1995 and Lapid was a goodl-ooking, up-and-coming ratings king. I asked to interview him as the show was being pre-recorded to get a better picture of someone who was clearly intent on going places.
As I noted at the time, Lapid, then 32, is the sort of person people love to hate: young, charming and successful.
When he handed female guests red roses, I could imagine mothers all over the country sighing to themselves “What a nice young man!” and younger women creating a fleeting Friday night fantasy involving a sensitive, courteous hero looking a lot like Lapid, although perhaps a bit taller.
He managed to maintain his humor and charm throughout our interview – despite the distractions stemming from a very details-oriented, hands-on approach to the job.
Last week I heard he’d given up smoking cigars, which could potentially harm his image in the post-social protest political arena. I wondered if he had also stopped chewing his nails, which along with chain-smoking was a giveaway sign of nervousness before that Friday night show.
Lapid was such a pleasure to interview that I still remember snatches of the offthe- record comments – which I will continue to respect in this column, although at the time he asked me not to mention the traumatic death of his sister in a car accident, something he has since written about himself.
At that time, he was a columnist in Ma’ariv’s weekend magazine and openly sought a role as a “serious journalist.”
“Sometimes I do pay a price by sticking by the rules of the game for Friday prime time, but I pay the price because this is my job and my personal plans aren’t always relevant,” he told me. “I made a decision that it’s not a matter of [the program] being too light, but that I’m not prepared to be bored.
“I have the same thing at the newspaper. I’d be happy to write an article every week on the need to dismantle the settlements, but I know that sometimes I have to write a feuilleton on my son or people would stop reading.”
He seems to enjoy learning and thrives on the personal touch, despite being one of the few Israeli politicians who is actively running a campaign on Facebook.
At 48 he is definitely more than a pretty face (although he has also had a brief acting career). One of the best ideas I’ve heard to help salvage the country’s image abroad appeared in one of Lapid’s Yediot columns where he suggested that Jewish communities in the Diaspora take it upon themselves to sue every newspaper that libels Israel, using those top-notch lawyers who make their mothers proud.
The son of a Holocaust survivor, he has also written some very powerful columns on his approach to Zionism, strongly rooted in culture rather than religion. In my Jerusalemite religious environs, Lapid seems typically Tel Avivi, a true son of the city where he was born and raised, but there is no doubt that he has a broad appeal to the non-religious center.
Incidentally, I also enjoy the weekly columns in Yediot’s local supplements of his photojournalist wife, Lihi, with whom I find myself agreeing more often.
His mother, Shulamit, is also a wellknown writer. But when it comes to Lapid’s family connections, it is, of course, his father’s name that automatically springs to mind.
Lapid will always suffer from “the-son-of” phenomenon. The late Yosef (Tommy) Lapid was a veteran Ma’ariv journalist and resident devil’s advocate on ITV’s Popolitika current-affairs talk show – before jumping into the political arena as the head of the stridently secular Shinui Party in 1999.
While the younger Lapid makes a huge effort to appear reasonable, inclusive and to hold respect for religion, Tommy Lapid’s career was based on strong anti-religious sentiment. As Knesset reporter, I covered his objections to having a shofar blown at an official state ceremony because of the “religious connotations” of the ram’s horn.
“There have been extraordinarily difficult moments in being [Tommy Lapid’s] son, but on the whole it has only helped me,” Lapid Jr. told me way before either of them was thinking of a political career.
Already an established playwright, poet and author, Yair Lapid’s latest book is Memories after my Death, a posthumous biography of Tommy Lapid written as an autobiography.
He obviously enjoyed a close relationship with his father (“my greatest critic”).
One assumes he would give anything to be able to still talk to him about his political aspirations. One wonders, too, what Tommy Lapid would have told him.
The older Lapid made his entrance as an MK mainly because then-Shinui leader Avraham Poraz, an extraordinarily hardworking parliamentarian, realized that the party wouldn’t pass the electoral threshold without someone more charismatic at the helm.
It’s hard to imagine many of today’s politicians suppressing their own egos in the same way to place someone else in the No. 1 slot, but it’s not inconceivable that Yair Lapid will eventually join with an existing party.
Ultimately, the veteran Poraz was ousted from the No. 2 slot by a young disc jockey and city councillor from Tel Aviv, and the party crashed in 2006.
If I were to interview Yair Lapid today my first question would be “Why do it?” Although others have made the leap from journalism to politics, it is not an easy move. Former journalist and current Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovitch did not parachute into the top slot, she worked hard for it. A journalist of Lapid’s standing is in such a good position to influence the country’s agenda that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu welcomed him to the political world last week with the quip “now it’s official.”
I also want to know what his platform actually is. It’s one thing reading his feelgood column on the “social contract” and something else learning what it entails, and who is going to pay the price.
Last week Post political reporter Gil Hoffman revealed the names behind Lapid’s campaign strategy. But that is the packaging. What’s more important is who else is on Lapid’s list, given his own lack of experience in the field.
Fame, charm and a nice smile will help Lapid get into the Knesset, but really being able to shine and survive there is something else altogether – as his father could have told him.
The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post.