Who Are the Israeli Centrists and Why Did They Vote for Yair Lapid?

Letter from Modi'in

City of Centrists: Modi’in, a monotonous bedroom community halfway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, gave Yair Lapid 27 percent of its vote.
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City of Centrists: Modi’in, a monotonous bedroom community halfway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, gave Yair Lapid 27 percent of its vote.

By Larry Derfner

Published February 05, 2013, issue of February 08, 2013.
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The last thing that stood out about Lapid’s campaign was how he didn’t talk about “the situation,” except to say, as an afterthought, that he was against “extremism” and in favor of a “diplomatic process.” Basically, he campaigned as if there were no occupation, no Palestinians, no Middle East. And that describes the outlook in Modi’in more so than the outlook in just about any other Israeli city, because Modi’in is right next door to the West Bank — and the people here just look right through it. They, or rather we, drive to and from Jerusalem, past army checkpoints along a highway that runs alongside the high concrete separation wall, and on which Palestinians are forbidden to drive ever since a few fatal attacks at the start of the second intifada, more than a decade ago. Palestinian construction workers sneak into town, and many sleep over in the building sites; the police sometimes arrest and fine them, but to people here, they’re invisible.

On the whole, Modi’in residents don’t want to know about the Palestinians, the occupation, the situation; nobody talks about it. As long as there’s no terror, there’s no problem — and there’s virtually no terror in Israel. Here, right next door to the West Bank, Jewish teenagers roam around all night, and the only danger is from other Jewish teenagers (no Israeli Arabs live in this city) who may be drunk and looking for a fight. Last November, at the end of Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza, a bomb went off on a Tel Aviv bus, injuring nearly 30 people, and the terrorist turned out to be an Israeli Arab from the village of Taibeh who worked at the McDonald’s in the Modi’in mall. At McDonald’s! For us suburbanites, it was a thrilling brush with danger and notoriety.

“I didn’t care that Lapid didn’t talk about the Palestinians and the conflict; it’s not important to me. What’s important to me is the economy, and Lapid represented my interests. I’m a man of the middle class,” said “Eli,” 40, a freelance journalist for Russian-language media abroad.

Since the fearsome second intifada burned out eight years ago, politics hasn’t really touched the middle-class high achievers here. During the disengagement from Gaza, during Operation Cast Lead, during any of the tumultuous events that filled the news media in Israel and abroad, the answer you got in the shops, parks and streets to the question “How are you doing?” remained, unfailingly, “Excellent!” It wasn’t always true, of course, and even when it was true, an excellent life in Israel required long, hard work to finance it, but Modi’in is a “quality” city with quality people — parents who are endlessly involved in their children’s education and development, kids who have everything, a city with health clubs and high-tech company cars. It’s a place without Arabs, without Haredim, without poor neighborhoods. Coming from Los Angeles, I am reminded of the San Fernando Valley.

This is Lapid Country: La La Land, only with compulsory army duty. It’s Israel in the period after the second intifada. The West Bank, however, really is next door, whether you live in Modi’in or anywhere else in this country. Gaza is, too, and so is the rest of the Middle East. May Lapid and his silent plurality enjoy their fortified dreamscape while it lasts.

Larry Derfner is an Israeli journalist who blogs for +972 Magazine.


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