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’.