New Faces of Israel's Election

Competition on Right and Center and for Orthodox Vote

Fresh Face: Ex-news anchor Yair Lapid may not become the next Israeli prime minister. But he leads a crop of fresh faces contesting this month’s general election.
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Fresh Face: Ex-news anchor Yair Lapid may not become the next Israeli prime minister. But he leads a crop of fresh faces contesting this month’s general election.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published January 07, 2013, issue of January 04, 2013.
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The election is being fought in the shadow of Israel’s social protests, and several prominent activists are expected to get the chance to take their battle from protests to parliament, among them Meretz’s Tamar Zandberg.

Together, these players are sure to make the Knesset an even more lively deliberative body than it already is — if that is possible. The Forward’s lowdown on some of these prospective new lawmakers makes clear why this is so.

Yair Shamir
Yair Shamir

YAIR SHAMIR

Yair Shamir, son of the late Yitzhak Shamir, is a star signing for Yisrael Beiteinu, a right-wing party originally founded by Avigdor Lieberman to speak for Russian immigrants. The party has fared well electorally on its ultra-nationalist credentials, especially its demand for loyalty from Arab citizens of Israel — a call that critics say has crossed the line to rabblerousing.

Since last election, however, Israel’s social protest movement has forced economic issues and the cost of living higher up on Israel’s political agenda. Shamir, 67, is Yisrael Beiteinu’s weapon for electioneering in this environment. He doesn’t buy into the ethos of the thousands who pitched protest tents in the summer of 2011 and called for a stronger welfare state. Instead, marshaling his credentials as one of Israel’s most successful businessmen, he promotes the free market as Israel’s best hope for reducing living costs. Big savings for normal Israelis will come from breaking up cartels that are dominant in the Israeli economy, Shamir says. He promises to strengthen the middle class.

Shamir’s management experience reads like a Who’s Who of big-name Israeli businesses, including El Al Israel Airlines, where he was chairman and overseer of the privatization process; the national food manufacturing giant Elite Food Industries, where he was CEO; and Israel Aerospace Industries, where he was chairman.

A staunch rightist, Shamir sees little point putting effort into making peace with the Palestinians. The ball is in their court to contact Israel if and when they are ready, he argues.

“It takes two to make peace but only one to reject it,” he told the Forward. “Unfortunately, I do not see much chance of moving the peace process forward. During the last two decades we have focused too much on what has been a failed process at the expense of pressing internal issues. I am glad that there is a refocus across the political spectrum toward internal issues.”

Following Beiteinu’s deal with Likud which has the parties running on a joint list — currently polling at 37 of the Knesset’s 120 seats — it looks almost certain that Shamir will take a prominent government role, probably as interior minister or housing minister.


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