Their fathers’ sons

The differences between Lapid and Netanyahu shaped by their fathers.

Yair and Tommy Lapid 370 (photo credit: Courtesy Yesh Atid)
Yair and Tommy Lapid 370
(photo credit: Courtesy Yesh Atid)
The 2013 elections have left us in the hands of Binyamin Netanyahu, a veteran politician, and Yair Lapid, a political novice who swept up 19 Knesset seats. To compare them, analysts have examined their records, media skills and even the way they conduct their personal lives. But there is another factor crucial to understanding the differences between the two media-savvy politicians: their fathers’ influence.
In 1979, journalist Joseph “Tommy” Lapid was appointed CEO of the Israel Broadcasting Authority by the government of Menachem Begin (which came to power in 1977), replacing Yitzhak Livni.
Even before he began trying to replace some of the entrenched leftists among the television and radio management with people on the Center and Right, Lapid had already suffered blunt verbal criticism and slander from his subordinates, having been marked as “inappropriate” for the position.
As related by his son, Yair Lapid in his book Memories after my death (an “autobiography” published after his father’s death): “In Tzavta [a Tel Aviv culture club identified with the left wing], there was a conference of enraged artists organized against me. Fiery speeches were given, petitions were signed, and Yossi Banai took the stage and dedicated Norman Thomas’ ‘The Naughty Little Flea’ to me, to the cheers of the crowd.... It was one of those moments in which the arrogant stupidity of the Israeli Left was on full display. Everyone explained, into every available microphone, that they were protesting against me as a ‘political appointee,’ but none of these murky knights of democracy had said a word when Yitzhak Livni was appointed to the exact same job by the old Labor Party establishment; he was clearly a leftist.... When it was someone in their circle, their abhorrence for political appointments vanished.”
Although generally Lapid allowed freedom of expression at IBA, after he dismissed the faithful leftist television director Arnon Zuckerman and enforced a ban on interviews with PLO members, he was tagged as a “dark, conservative nationalist” and nicknamed “Tommy La-Pen.”
Lapid’s treatment by the Left was felt more deeply because of what his friend Ephraim Kishon was subjected to. Kishon was a popular columnist at Ma’ariv, as well as an author and playwright. His satire columns were much loved by the mainstream, but he was boycotted by the Israeli media elite for years.
Gradually Lapid got tired of the resentment directed against him in culture and art circles, his criticisms against them diminished, and he apparently decided that “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”
It was a conscious, calculated move. Years later he was quoted in Nissim Mish’al’s book Those Were the Years – Israel is 50 Years Old (1998) as saying: “Bibi’s [Binyamin Netanyahu] original sin was daring to be elected in defiance of the ‘holy trinity’: the media, academia and the white establishment.
The liberal Left advocates of free democratic elections cannot accept the fact that the majority voted ‘incorrectly.’ Hence the consistent, arrogant attempts to de-legitimize Bibi as prime minister.”
Lapid then went and became “voluntarily” leftist.
Lapid’s political embrace of the Left was revealed for the first time during Operation Peace for Galilee, when he criticized Begin’s government. Then, in the 1999 elections he headed a left-wing party he founded, Shinui, and won six seats, and in 2003 led it to 15 seats (one of those on the Shinui list was Etti Livni, Yitzhak Livni’s wife).
In 2004, in his capacity as deputy prime minister and minister of justice in Ariel Sharon’s second government, Lapid was outspoken and critical. He opposed demolition of Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip, and said that the sight of an old Gazan woman searching through the ruins of her house, which had been destroyed by the IDF, aroused his memories of his own grandmother, Hermine, who perished in the Holocaust.
During his tenure as justice minister, Lapid gave full backing to activist Supreme Court president Aharon Barak, and was also among the supporters of the appointment of state attorney Edna Arbel to the court – after having described her in 1997 as the “head of legal terrorism division,” a reference to her left-wing activities.
In fact, his establishment of Shinui while still a media professional foreshadowed the creation of Yesh Atid by his son, Yair Lapid. Shinui’s platform, which argued for enlisting haredim (ultra-Orthodox) and strengthening the free market, bears a striking resemblance to that of Yesh Atid – except for the latter’s new slogan: “Equalize the Burden.”
Like Shinui, Yesh Atid is designed to link up with the political Left and yet attract right-wing voters through its anti-haredi and economic agenda.
IF THE elder Lapid could be said to have retreated in the face of left-wing fire, the exact opposite could be said of Professor Benzion Netanyahu, Binyamin Netanyahu’s father, namely that he kept fighting until his death.
In the late 1950s and early ‘60s, Prof. Netanyahu had to leave for the US to pursue his career as a historical researcher, because he had been ostracized by Israel’s academic community due to his right-wing views. Returning to Israel after his son Yoni was killed during the Entebbe raid in 1976, he continued to pursue his intellectual work despite exclusion from polite Israeli society.
Like his father, Binyamin Netanyahu has been savaged in the media and de-legitimized, and yet has remained true to his political origins. It is not just a question of comparing Netanyahu’s service as a fighter in an elite IDF unit to Lapid’s service as an army reporter for Bamahane, but also a question of comparing their political willingness to confront the establishment. Judging from the perspective of their fathers’ influence and political trajectory, Lapid will likely cave in to left-wing pressure in order to gain sympathy.
The writer is the editor of The Jerusalem Post IVRIT and has a PhD in Information Science.