Yair Lapid May Wind Up Helping Bibi

Popular TV Host Could Split Secular Israeli Vote

By Nathan Jeffay

Published January 14, 2012, issue of January 20, 2012.
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It is a testament to his popularity that Lapid is enjoying dream results in the opinion polls — commissioned by most of the major media sources, including Maariv, Yediot Aharonot, Channel 10 and the Knesset Channel — even before he has outlined his platform. In his columns, he typically writes what he believes is on the mind of the average citizen, dealing with consensus issues that try to get to the heart of how Israelis live and see their country.

After watching Alan Dershowitz’s film, “The Case for Israel: Democracy’s Outpost,” he asked rhetorically how it is that Israelis “are always on the defensive, always apologizing, and always losing the battle for global public opinion.” He was against a 2010 declaration by rabbis’ wives warning Jewish women to stay away from Arabs, but is “not that liberal” as to believe in intermarriage. He has written that he has told his children that they “are part of a dynasty, an idea, a spiritual relay race where they must not drop the baton.” And in his article “I Am a Zionist,” he gave expression to the most common feelings of patriotism felt by Israelis; of emotion at seeing children go to the army, and of joy at returning to Israel after traveling abroad. He is critical of Haredim — but not to the degree of his late father, Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, a controversial character who led the now-defunct secularist party Shinui.

On the peace process, he positions himself as a compass of centrism between left and right. He wrote a year ago: “The left is wrong because it refuses to recognize that human beings may be equal, yet they are not identical. Different nations have a different character….The right is wrong because in the 21st century national struggles cannot end in victory or defeat, for the simple reason that they cannot end at all.”

Efrat Knoller, an expert on centrist parties in Israel, said the fact that Lapid is polling so well even before talking policies says a lot about the political attitudes of young, middle-class, secular Israelis — the key demographic for Lapid. “They want everything to be the newest: new homes, new culture, new cell phones and new politicians,” said Knoller, lecturer in government at Bar-Ilan University’s Safed College. Among this demographic, Knoller said, political experience is seen as a minus and not a plus, and a new party — if headed by a charismatic leader — is viewed as a more attractive option than an established party.

Ben-Gurion University political scientist Guy Ben-Porat thinks that this phenomenon is a product of a growing disillusionment with the established parties. “I think that people in general have lost faith in the politics of the parties, which is why the uprising [social protests] in the summer happened outside the established politics and its leaders avoided politicians. The other side of this is the constant search for something new — now a political party that isn’t quite a political party.”

Contact Nathan Jeffay at jeffay@forward.com


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