And the winner is… Yair Lapid

Yair Lapid, leader of Yesh Atid

OK, he’s not the outright winner of the election. That position still belongs to Binyamin Netanyahu.  The two big political blocs, right and left, are more or less tied. Likud Beitenu, and Netanyahu as incumbent Prime Minister and winner of the largest number of seats, will get the first opportunity to form a coalition, but it might prove difficult. As the Times of Israel reports, “Let the arithmetic begin“.

For starters, it should be noted that Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Liberman’s Likud-Yisrael Beytenu list is clearly best positioned to head a stable government. It is therefore almost certain that President Shimon Peres will ask the incumbent prime minister to try to build a coalition first.

While a meager 31 seats for Likud-Yisrael Beytenu does not give Netanyahu the strength he was hoping for, he has little to fear from his new Knesset colleagues and rivals. Even if Yesh Atid (with 19 seats) teamed up with Labor (15 seats), Hatnua (6 seats), Meretz (6 seats) and Kadima (possibly 2 seats), the center-left bloc would still fall a dozen mandates short of even a slim majority. And it is very unlikely that such a bloc would be joined by either an Arab or an ultra-Orthodox party. For that matter, the center-left parties would most likely be unwilling to pay the political price the Shas and United Torah Judaism parties would demand.

So, however weakened, and however spectacular Yesh Atid’s rise, Netanyahu is in the driver’s seat.

Read the rest of the article for some more theorising on all the various permutations and probabilities for the makeup of the new government. Keep in mind that the final numbers might still change after the soldiers’ votes are counted.

There is no doubt however Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid party have been the surprise huge winners of yesterday’s elections, garnering 19 seats (at the last, still not-final count) in the next Knesset.

Lapid and his party flew almost silently under the radar in the election campaign, while local and international attention was focused on Naftali Bennett and the Bayit Yehudi party.

As an aside, my theory for the near-obsessive attention to Bennett, obscuring the rise of Yair Lapid,  is that it was a mixture of personal dislike of Bennett by Netanyahu combined with the international media’s scare-mongering about the fictional rightward shift of Israeli society.

So who is Yair Lapid? The Algemeiner gives us some background:

A successful journalist, TV host, actor, writer, and even playwright, Yair Lapid’s foray into politics not more than a year ago has proven to be a success, too. Lapid and his Yesh Atid party blew away expectations and are projected to take 18-19 seats in the Knesset when final election results are released.

Though Lapid surprised many, he didn’t exactly appear out of thin air. Before entering politics in January 2012, Lapid’s fame was so far-reaching that a Ynet poll once ranked him as one of the top 40 Israelis of all-time.

[...]

The Israeli media are comparing Lapid to a more conservative American politician: Ronald Reagan–both handsome and both apparently successful at making the seamless transition from entertainment to politics.

The contrasting comparisons make sense, as Lapid’s Party, Yesh Atid (There is a Future), takes as its platform many lynchpins of centrist policy: education reform, making peace with Israel’s neighbors, the housing crisis, fighting political corruption, changing the system of government, and most importantly for its leader, fighting for a universal draft.

Lapid’s success speaks to the ability he showed during the campaign to strike a chord with a wide range of voters. Arik Elman, an Israeli political commentator and Algemeiner blogger said that Lapid pulled away from the left enough to attract voters on both sides. “He actually made the effort to distance himself from the left,” Elman noted, adding that his position on Iran is much the same as Netanyahu’s while his belief that Israel should vigorously pursue the peace process mirrors that of the left.

One thing is for sure, if Lapid is to play a major role in the next Israeli government, his remark to supporters tonight that “a heavy responsibility has fallen on our shoulders today,” will certainly be true.

Amir Mizroch, editor of the English language Israel Hayom paper, (linked to in the Algemeiner article), expands on the comparison to Obama (heaven help us):

A week after declaring his candidacy, Lapid wrote in his weekly column in Yedioth Ahronoth that he sought to represent the Israeli middle class. He said all Israelis should ask themselves, “Where’s the money?” – catchphrase that he rode all the way to 19 mandates in these elections. He was referring to what he considers Israel’s distorted budgetary priorities that are biased against the middle class, and cited government stipends to haredim as well as the disproportionate funds received by the settlers.

Lapid’s move from journalism into politics mirrors that of his late father, Tommy Lapid, a newspaper columnist and TV personality who started his own party and went on to become justice minister. Tommy Lapid’s secular, Zionist Shinui party drew support mostly for its biting criticism of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox religious establishment. The younger Lapid is not as anti-haredi as the haredim like to portray him. He’s got some serious modern Orthodox religious figures in his list in the form of Rabbis Shai Piron and Dov Lipman, and Lapid himself has officiated at several civil weddings, not as a rabbi, of course, but as something in between. He also says his favorite character of all time is Moses. Also, his plan to integrate the haredim into the army and workforce is much less drastic and far more gradual than the plan espoused by Kadima’s Yochanan Plesner and even the Likud’s Moshe Ya’alon.

[...]

Like US President Barack Obama when he ran for his first term, Lapid is someone who is banking on a message of change; change in the political system, change in the nation’s fiscal and social priorities, change in the education system, change to the rules of national burden: he promises that he will work for seismic changes to the national fabric of Israeli society: the ultra-Orthodox must serve in the army or national service and they must join the workforce etc.

But like Obama, Lapid may be creating too many expectations, and might suffer from this down the line when he’s faced with the harsh realities of the Israeli political system, and the expected economic downturn and massive budget cuts the next government will have to implement.

[...]

Like Obama’s first campaign, Lapid crowd-sourced his campaign, mostly on the Internet. His Facebook friends asked him questions, and he sat all night and answered them. I followed one of his staffer’s Instagram account, and I can tell you that Lapid held at least one parlor meeting every day somewhere in the country. Every day.

He surrounded himself with young and hungry operators  who recruited volunteers by the thousands. He set up working groups and committees for separate issues and he didn’t stick just to Tel-Aviv.

I’d say Lapid is branding himself into the ‘outsider promising change’ mold. He keeps a photograph of his father Yosef Tommy Lapid meeting with Obama. Yair Lapid often talks about his father, and the lessons the Jews need to learn from the Holocaust. Lapid is no dove. There’s no doubt that Lapid sees himself one day as prime minister; he knows it won’t be in these elections, but he’s willing to wait.

Oh, and by the way, Lapid gave his victory speech tonight from a teleprompter [like Obama], the first Israeli politician to do so.

My first instinct is to say “Oy”. But on second thoughts, especially considering the religious candidates in his party, I’m going to keep an open mind for the moment. And hope for the best.

Oh yes, and pray – that Lapid will not turn out to be another empty suit like Obama (or Livni for that matter), that the coalition will indeed be formed by Netanyahu, and that the coalition that will eventually be formed will represent Israel’s best interests and not just the politicians’.

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8 Responses to And the winner is… Yair Lapid

  1. NormanF says:

    The Arab parties are not considered leftists in any meaningful sense as if Islamists, Arab nationalists and fascists could be considered “progressive.” No Jewish party would ever ally with them.

    Netanyahu wants as few parties as possible in his coalition and its quite likely he’ll bring on board Yesh Atid, Yehudi Bayit and Kadima which would give him a stable majority of 63 seats. He can work with it. If Kadima fails to stay above the threshold thanks to the soldiers votes, those two seats get credited to Likud and the number of seats would stay the same. He can invite the haredi parties aboard but may not want to pay the price they’re demanding to be in the next government.

    So he has options even as its apply likely, Labor and T’hanua will opt to remain in the opposition.

    • anneinpt says:

      In Israel left and right have completely different meanings than in the rest of the world. Here they relate solely to security issues. Likud, the “rightists”, are probably closer to Social Democrats than to Republicans or Tories in their economics. Certainly the religious parties are fairly socialist.

      Yes, I would call the Arab parties right-wing, except of course not in Israel because of the security issue.

      I don’t know if Netanyahu can overcome his aversion to Bennett enough to invite him to his coalition. And I’m not sure about Livni and Hatnua. Her ego might be too big to accommodate being together with the religious parties. But Bibi has plenty of options nonetheless. Everyone wants to be in the government after all.

      We’ll find out soon enough.

    • anneinpt says:

      I just wanted to add that if Kadima fails to get in, their votes are simply lost. They won’t get added to Likud. Vote sharing only works with parties that crossed the threshold.

  2. There seems to be considerable speculation about the consequences of the election and the nature of the coalition(s) that may develop. What seems more certain is the strength of the electoral process and its affect on the durability of the Israeli populace to meet and deal with critical political issues rationally suggesting their ability to meet and deal with other challenging issues domestic and foreign – something their less politically mature neighbors fail to possess. “Seeking peace with neighbors” may seem fantasy to those of us who recognize the intransigence of Islam in their quest to kill Jews and eliminate Israel, but there may be some middle point that we are not able to see that Lapin and his associates can see. Interesting to see how this develops.

  3. Andrea says:

    Some thoughts from a foreign perspective.

    Newspapers and polls were soundly wrong. We were told ( out of Israel ) that your nation was a sort of Tea Party land – a paradise for hawkish and far right if not racist religious minds. Another example of misinformation which is usual among European newspapers. Nevertheless even in Israel very few would have bet on such result. This time an evidence of the gap between common people and media, in Israel as well. Not surprisingly when biggest newspapers are owned by non -impartial millionaires.

    Lapid strategy was effective on social issues which most of Israelis take care of – something not well perceived abroad in spite of summer 2011 marches. General sense of being tired of old established electoral machine plays in favour of this apparently attractive man and his non religius program. (by the way : what about civil marriage ? Is this possible ? )

    Labour result is not bad whilst Kadima is a disaster. Bibi won but well under expectations ( 80% of Israeli blog read abroad supported him for sounding victory – someone has to explain me why there are not Labour or Meretz blogs. It is possible that these people are so boring to write something of interest :-( )

    I liked the religious leader with English brand , Bennet I thought it was another religious millionaire ( we have so many in Europe ) but I have changed my view. He is indeed very capable.

    Finally the real unknown subject : Arab parties gained 12 if I am not wrong – more than previous elections in 2006 and 2009. They are divided on everything in spite of the fact that their strenght is not negligible. Arabs % of voters could increase over the years to come, expecially if we shall in accoount Arabs living in parts that far Right would like to annex within the nation. Their ideological basis is rather conservative based on small Levantine middle class view ( I hope Levantine is not considered a bad remarks ). Who wants to deal with them ? Answer is not maybe so predictable..

    • anneinpt says:

      Andrea, I think you are right that even the Israeli media underestimated Lapid’s strategy. Most of us thought he was “an empty suit”, a TV personality just in it for his ego. This might yet prove to be true, but for the moment his strategy has paid off, and his party list and their platform seem pretty realistic. In fact if I weren’t religious I might have voted for him myself.

      The Labour result was not as good as they had hoped. Shelley Yachimovitch has very high principles and I thought she would get more votes.

      Kadima is a disaster – and always was. It was a party set up for convenience. When the Likud would not vote along with Sharon for the Gaza withdrawal, he simply walked away and set up his own party. Tzippi Livni, ever the opportunist, went with him. When he got ill, she was left in charge and made a huge mess of it. When their primaries voted her out of the leadership she did a Sharon, walked away and set up her own party. And here we go again. She managed to eviscerate Kadima (not that I am crying for them) and got 6 or 7 seats for herself. Not bad, but why didn’t she just stay where she was, in Kadima? She has no principles at all, only ego.

      Bennett – I love him. Unromantically of course. :-). He is definitely not a typical right-wing millionaire a la America or Europe. He is extremely principled and a genuinely nice man. He also did wonderfully by quadrupling Bayit Yehudi’s seats.

      And of course the Arabs are their own worst enemies. They are at least 20% of the population. If they voted in all their numbers for their own candidates they could have 20-25 seats in the Knesset. But many of them don’t play partisan politics and actually voted for Israeli parties, and many don’t vote at all, whether from apathy or antagonism I don’t know.

      There was a funny story on tonight’s TV news (not online yet) about the Arab town of Tuba-Zangria voting en masse for the haredi United Torah Judaism! Apparently the UTJ were the only party to help them save a local factory and prevent huge unemployment. They showed their gratefulness at the polls. Kol hakavod (bravo) to them!

      • Andrea says:

        Hi Annie,

        This last point ( Arab economy helped by religious party and their gratefulness ) deserves to be known abroad. Were not all Haredi considered as fanatic and racist ? and all Arabs supporting Hamas and/or PLO ? Israel is one of the most misrepresented Nation ….everyone talk about her but nobody knows her in depth.

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