Yair Lapid, Telegenic Kingmaker, Has Rough Road Ahead

Centrist Star Wants To Build Coalition But It Won't Be Easy

Shrinking Center: He’s Israel’s man of the moment. But things are about to get very, very tricky for Yair Lapid.
getty images
Shrinking Center: He’s Israel’s man of the moment. But things are about to get very, very tricky for Yair Lapid.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published January 24, 2013, issue of February 01, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Moments after exit polls confirmed his surprise second-place showing in Israel’s January 22 parliamentary elections, political neophyte Yair Lapid faced his giddy supporters and declared: “A serious responsibility has been placed on our shoulders tonight.”

That’s for sure. With left and right exactly tied at 60 seats each in the 120-seat parliament (with 99.8% of votes counted at press time), Lapid essentially gets to decide who will be Israel’s next prime minister.

He can bring his 19-member caucus of moderate liberals across the aisle to prop up the staunchly conservative incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu, who came in first with 31 seats but lost his old majority. Or he can join with his fellow liberals, former foreign minister Tzipi Livni and Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich, to form a new majority, presumably after wooing over a few defectors from the right. Either option is perfectly legal. Both entail betraying one or more of his core principles. It’s all up to Lapid.

It won’t be easy. A hugely popular television anchor and newspaper columnist, Lapid jumped into politics a year ago to clean things up. He considers himself a devout centrist, committed to rising above politics-as-usual and creating a government “that unites the moderate forces on left and right,” as he put it election night.

His first instinct is to give the baton democratically to first-place winner Netanyahu. The two began discussing a partnership as soon as exit polls came in, according to published reports. But joining Netanyahu might prove impossible, due to complicated mathematics and a gulf in core values. It’s going to get messy.

In the end, Lapid is likely to find himself in the same position as another political naïf who entered national politics not so long ago with hopes of rising above politics as usual. I’m talking about Barack Obama. Lapid’s problem, like Obama’s, is that the divisions are real. The game gets ugly because the stakes are so high. Like Obama, Lapid will find that the moderate center he wants to assemble simply doesn’t exist within today’s legislature.

Lapid’s rude awakening will arrive a lot quicker than Obama’s. Within 77 days, to be exact. That’s how long Israel’s quasi-constitutional basic law allows, from the moment the vote results are officially published, for a would-be prime minister to negotiate with other parties, forge a viable coalition and win a Knesset vote of confidence.

Here’s how it works: Israel’s ceremonial president, 89-year-old liberal icon Shimon Peres, has seven days to consult with all the parties, hear their recommendations for prime minister and then tap the likeliest contender. Peres’s choice gets 42 days to craft a coalition. If he or she fails, the president can pick someone else, who then has 28 days to try. Failing that, the Knesset is dissolved and new elections follow. With the blocs tied 60-60 and the sides more polarized than ever, that’s not inconceivable.

Netanyahu wants Lapid to join him in a centrist bloc, united behind Lapid’s signature cause of ending draft deferments for ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students. Between them they have 50 seats. They aim to join forces with the other new star of this election, high-tech entrepreneur Naftali Bennett of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, who agrees on ending the yeshiva deferment. Now they total 61. Add in the two seats of the once-mighty Kadima and they get to 63. Shaky, but it’s a start. They disagree on Palestinian statehood, but Lapid figures that can be put on the back burner.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.