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Israel’s Great White Hope

Why Yair Lapid is not the answer to the (many) problems

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Yair Lapid.(JPost)

Like the hapless Republicans, Israeli voters are constantly on the lookout for a savior to redeem them from the doldrums of an ossified political system. In 1992, former army chief of staff Refael Eitan rode this wave of resentment and secured eight Knesset seats for his party, Tzomet; by 1999, the party shut down, having failed to secure enough votes for a single seat in the parliament. Its disgruntled voters looked elsewhere for hope, and, in 2003, gave 15 mandates to Shinui, an anti-religious party led by TV pundit Yosef Lapid, making it the third largest party in the Knesset. By 2008, Shinui, too, was defunct.

This week, Yair Lapid, Yosef’s son and one of Israel’s most popular journalists, announced his intentions of entering the political arena. No one was surprised: Lapid Jr.’s de facto election campaign began years ago, and was conducted in the television news magazine he hosts on the nation’s most popular broadcast network and in the column he writes in the nation’s most popular newspaper. Some grumbled that a journalist so clearly committed to changing careers should abandon his media platforms or risk considerable ethical violations. Lapid didn’t seem bothered, reportedly meeting with a cadre of politicians, senior officers, and other public figures in an effort to start his own independent party. That party, and its newly recruited members, are both yet unnamed. Still, Israeli polls this week predicted that Lapid may win as many as 20 Knesset seats in the next elections, making his new party Israel’s third largest.

Which is a fine opportunity to stop and appraise the famous man. Like his father before him, Lapid is a natural on TV. While père made his fortune outshouting his ideological opponents on political panel shows, fils has constructed a slicker public image. With a perfectly coiffed and massively gelled shock of salt-and-pepper hair and a penchant for tight, black t-shirts, Lapid is Israel’s Everyman Superman: he’s sensitive yet masculine, fiercely secular yet deeply connected to his Jewish identity, determined yet willing to listen. His columns and television appearances convey the same message: all Israelis are different yet all Israelis are alike, and they should all work together for a bright, common, uncomplicated future.

If this sounds a touch sophomoric, it is. Lapid is a lot like that person in high school who is class president and good looking and beloved by the teachers and adored by the girls and chummy with the guys and full of bonhomie and pep, yet has said or thought or done nothing original or remarkable in his entire life. Which, in Israel’s contemporary political reality, makes him not only desirable but downright dangerous. Most likely, his new party will fizzle away just like his father’s—and every other recent overnight political sensation. In the meantime, however, his popularity is likely to thrust Israel further into the political abyss it’s been busily cultivating for the past year.

Take, for example, the rift between secular and ultra-Orthodox Israelis. With riots erupting recently in several Israeli towns, and with anti-female practices gaining hold in Haredi communities in blatant violation of the state’s laws, Israel is long overdue for a serious, scathing debate about the limits of tolerance and the nature of religion. Instead, Lapid gave a recent speech in front of utlra-Orthodox youth and called for cooperation and collaboration. We should all work together, he told them, the state is ours to share.

It’s a lovely sentiment. It’s also an idiotic one. The ultra-Orthodox zealots who called a young girl a “whore” for not dressing modestly enough, who rioted to keep women relegated to the back of the bus, who throw soiled diapers at police officers trying to keep them from shutting down main roads on Shabbat—these cats are not looking for a dialogue. Nor are the settlers who smash IDF officers in the face with bricks and set mosques on fire. Nor are the MKs who splash water in the face of colleagues with whom they disagree. What Israel needs, then, is a principled leader capable of charting a course of action and then sticking to it. Prime Minister Netanyahu is notoriously incapable on that front, doing his best to be all things to all people. Lapid would be even worse.

Yair Lapid’s Political Foray Seen Swiping Seats from Kadima [Haaretz]

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Eyal, Berlin says:

well… with such bad options, i usually voted for the most interesting (yep!) party available. senior citizens, grass growers (ale yarok) and once – meretz. the writer needs to remember one thing: old school rabin-peres-sharon are all gone. it’s all fresh contaminated blood now pumping into the israeli political system. netanyahu-barak and now lapid (“torch”, what a joke) that only want to meet merkel and obama and feel like they are important. israel’s political map is so complex, these people have no idea how to handle it. i don’t have the answers, and netanyahu, or lapid or anyone else is just trying to please everyone. the only way this would work is if those “leaders” (no more than boyscout group leaders in my book) would build a sound, smart and diverse coalition without extremists or others who pollute democracy (lieberman? shas? aguda?). livni, yehimovich, even lapid – they will all do.
just build a government based on what the majority wants: good economy, good international relations, quiet peaceful times with our neighbors and, hmmm…. live! i know this sounds utopian but still, it’s all feasible. less contamination, more stability and alles will be ok.

Bill Pearlman says:

Ok, until you got to the knesset member throwing water.That woman should get a medal. If it was any other country these Arab MKs would be up on treason charges

Eyal, Berlin says:

Bill, true. but when you have a democracy, you include EVERYONE. that’s the idea.
Israelis deal with Iran through companies they set up (or work with) in Germany, Denmark etc. There was an article about that in Haaretz a week ago (hebrew only sorry – http://www.themarker.com/markerweek/1.1609709). Israeli law specifically says you can’t deal with a bunch of countries and they don’t give a s**t. business is business. take off the label that smells like israel and there you go… btw, pistachios you eat in Tel Aviv do not grow in the Negev, they grow in Iran…
So the visible side is always the one everyone’s talking about, but there is a lot of stuff we know here and there that we all choose to ignore.

The Middle Eastern Arab’s have their Taliban, the U.S. has it’s right wing religious Taliban & Israel has it’s religious zealot Taliban as well…

The world needs to wake up to the very simple fact that any/all religion when put to the extreme is not able to function with the freedoms that we all want & deserve.

There are close to eight billion people on this planet (Double what there should be) & sadly the majority of them believe in this pretend god thing. They are frightened of death, poor, uneducated, under educated & just plain foolish but they believe in pretend nonsense like a god of some type.

I was born into an religious home & attended a Yeshiva for years but when my normal brain took over & my education took hold I realized that those things that I was taught were in fact part of the planets killing fields. In the very history of this planet, show me a religion & I will show you death & destruction. Show me a war & at it’s beginnings you will find religion.

I understand the culture of the Jewish people & I am proud to be part of it BUT it is time that all people come to the understanding that religion needs to be curbed & the so called holy land needs to show the way….

Morris Alkes says:

Author Leibovitz presents a whole laundry list of what he /she thinks is wrong in Israel starting with Republicans in USA to ultra orthodox Jews then on to the present Prime Minister and Yael Lapid .
Is the answer to Iraeli utopia the ultra left wing or socialism maybe even a bit of communism in the author’s imagined world ?
Sounds as so to my interpretation of article .

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Israel’s Great White Hope

Why Yair Lapid is not the answer to the (many) problems

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