Yair Lapid: The New Star on the Israeli Political Scene

The main surprise of Israel’s latest elections for the19th Knesset was the Yesh Atid party («There is a future»), established less than a year ago it came in second with 19 seats, and is led by 49-year-old Yair Lapid. Some (political opponents) predict it will soon collapse, others (supporters) unquestionably see him as a future leader of the country, still others view Lapid as a product of political technologies grown overseas and grafted onto Israeli soil, similar to the leaders of the «color revolutions» in Eastern Europe, but more subtly so: «no protruding ears» or visible external shocks...

Yair Lapid was born on November 5th, 1963 in Tel Aviv, the son of a renowned political figure - Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice in the government of Ariel Sharon (2003-2004), Chairman of the renowned secularist «Shinui» party, Yosef (Tommy) Lapid. In this respect, Lapid, Jr., focuses mainly on the educated young and middle aged; he can be classified in the political category «princes of the blood,» and so is quite acceptable to the older generation of Israeli politicians such as Shimon Peres, giving him a clear advantage in fighting with rivals.

Lapid has interesting roots. Yosef «Tommy» Lapid was born under the name of Tomislav Lampel in Serbia in Novi Sad (Life: 1931-2008). During the Second World War, following the occupation of Vojvodina by Hungary, he was deported with his family to the Budapest ghetto. His father was subsequently killed in a concentration camp, but Lapid and his mother managed to survive. In 1948 he immigrated to Israel, and took part in the war for independence. Before the start of his political career he held important positions in the field of mass communications, and in particular, as editor of the country's most influential newspaper «Maariv» and Director General of the Israeli Broadcasting Authority. All these connections were passed on to his son Yair.

In the late 1990s Lapid Sr. joined the secular free market liberal Shinui (Change) party. He was elected head of the party. The Shinui party strongly supported an anticlerical approach, advocated the separation of religion from the state and the adoption of a constitution. It had liberal views on economic policy and centrist views on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Yesh Atid is actually largely a reincarnated Shinui, only based on new political technology. It is easy to foresee that the support of international liberalism will be guaranteed for the new Lapid family project.

Tommy Lapid in the 1990’s was marked out by his support for the Serbian position during the outbreak of the civil war in Yugoslavia. He did much to persuade public opinion in Israel in favor of Belgrade, and he largely succeeded. It is no accident that in March 2011, a street in Novi Sad was renamed Tommy Yosef Lapid Street. It is noteworthy that his son Yair by build and behavior looks remarkably similar to the former President of Serbia Boris Tadic, a favorite of women, whose name, incidentally, is also associated with local Jewish families. Being photogenic and presentable has always been an important criterion in the selection of future leaders of the «color revolutions».

Yair Lapid moved through life on very favorable terms. Firstly he studied in Tel Aviv, then in London, and from his youth was fascinated by journalism and writing. His professional career as a journalist began at the same time as he served in the Army as a war correspondent for the journal «Bamahane»    («In the camp»). He has written nine books, one of which is «Sunset in Moscow» - a detective novel, where the hero investigator, is Jewish, and an employee in the Moscow police. All the events of the book take place in Moscow in early 2000. In addition, he has written a number of very successful plays, which were performed in the «Habima Theater» and «Chamber Theatre» as well as a dramatic TV series «The war room», which aired on channel 2 in 2004. In 2006, considerable attention was paid to his play «The Right Age.»  He was a volunteer teacher who taught social studies in high school at the «NA’AMAT» school of technology in Jaffa, where the majority of students came from CIS countries. From childhood, he was fond of sports, first boxing, and later, when apparently he already needed to take care of his appearance, he became a fan of karate, reaching black belt in the martial arts (3rd Dan) and exercised 5 times a week. He frankly works on a sort of macho intellectual image of someone who can «say something smart,» and by chance show off bulging biceps. In achieving his objectives Yair Lapid demonstrates the psychological qualities acquired after many years of training, an irresistible head of steam, but also endurance, patience and cold calculation.

From 1988 he started to work as a reporter and columnist in turn for two major Israeli newspapers «Yedioth Ahronoth» and «Maariv «, the headline of his column being «Where’s the money?» The fight against corruption was so popular in the eyes of the public that Lapid kept this as his permanent political slogan. He played a major role in the popular Israeli film «Song of the Siren». In 1994, he became a popular TV presenter recognized across the country. He was an interviewer and host of the leading Friday evening program on Israel’s Channel 1 television. He has conducted interviews with a wide range of well-known figures of our time: from Bill Gates and the Dalai Lama to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tony Blair. He has interviewed the entire political leadership of Israel, including six serving Prime Ministers. Using his previous experience, from the viewer’s perspective, he is in a position to speculate on any topic. His ability to communicate with the audience in the current political environment is perhaps the most important thing, as none of the current politicians can compete with Lapid. At the same time Yair Lapid remains the «TV promoter» for Israel’s largest bank Hapoalim (The Workers Bank), making him welcome in the financial circles of the country.

Not knowing Russian, even if he pretends he does, he is winning over the Russian-speaking electorate, which has been largely elusive. The Likudovtsy are still angry with the native of Moldova, Avigdor Lieberman, (who still claims a monopoly on this) because they had to give him a preliminary agreement on nearly half the seats in the Knesset, and in their view the voices of support for Lieberman, largely flowed to Lapid . Curiously, one of his closest associates in the Yesh Atid party who targets Russian-speakers is a native of Birobidzhan, two-time runner-up European judo champion in the 73 kg category at the Athens Olympics, 32years old Constantine (Yoel) Razvozov. It is not difficult to understand that these qualities make Razvozov a very convenient channel in bringing Yesh Atid’s positions to Moscow, for example, on the levels of the Judo Federation of Russia.

Commentators have noted that Lapid pursued a «quiet and focused» campaign, which lulled many. He tried not to waste energy on conflicts and quarrels; avoided making a slip of the tongue and consistently adhered to the main slogan of the party: «We are here to change the situation in the country». «What is most important at the moment? Patience,» Lapid wrote on his page on the Facebook social network site. «Leadership - the ability to set a goal and then achieve its implementation. This is what we are now doing». (1)

Lapid is in no hurry to immediately implement the result he received in the election, which exceeded all expectations by exactly three times. He entered politics for real and for a long time. He has reserved for himself the leadership of the Yesh Atid party up to 2020 (2) and declared: «I declare that politics is my second career, and a third, I will not have! I'm going to spend the rest of my life fighting for a better future for our country». (3)

Experts believe that Lapid’s success is largely explained by Israeli voter fatigue with all the current politicians. None of the people on his list have been deputies before. Notably, in colleges and universities those on Lapid’s list triumphed over the old parties everywhere. And these are the future of the country. While in his program, he did not say anything new, but just exactly matched the tastes of the average non-religious voters who wants change, but not too much, supports the IDF and Israeli identity, but not under American influence, does not like the Arabs and the «New Middle East» but wants to end the conflict and wants Israel to have good relations with the West.

Lapid considers himself a consistent Zionist, but believes certain compromises are inevitable. He states: We believe that Israel was established to become a national home for the Jewish people, and it should be a country with a Jewish majority and borders that can be protected. Arrays of large settlement blocks (Ariel and nearby areas, Gush Etzion, Ma'ale Adumim) will remain within the State of Israel. We take the systematic deviation of the current government of Israel to return to the negotiating table as a clear lack of national responsibility. Peace is the only proper response to the demographic threat to such crazy ideas as a «state for all citizens» and «bi-national state», which the left-and right-wing radicals are trying to promote. We believe that they are anti-Zionist ideas, which must be combated by all available means. We have to admit to the fact, which has already been recognized by the former leaders of Israel: the choice between control over the «territories» and the issue of the Jewish majority compels us to give up part of Israeli territory. We must give up part of the historic lands of Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel) as part of the struggle for a Jewish state in the land of Israel, a state with a Jewish majority and with secure and recognized borders.(5)

Not surprisingly, the Palestinians have no enthusiasm for Lapid’s success. They point to the unacceptability of his intention to «join up» the illegal Jewish settlements in the three metropolitan areas and include them in the state of Israel. The Palestinians, for example, point to the fact that if Netanyahu as an election propaganda gesture visited the Western or Wailing Wall (Al-Buraq in Arabic), then Lapid announced his program, while in the occupied West Bank, in the Jewish settlement of Ariel. Just like Netanyahu, he sees a united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Except that, unlike Netanyahu, he does not want to start a war against Iran without U.S. support. (6)

Inside Israel, Lapid has plenty enough enemies in the supporters of the traditional parties. They argue that he was given a chance and he took it, but he is not yet in a position to take advantage of it. Being the second largest party in the Knesset, Yesh Atid cannot continue to exist further if its leader does not take one of the top ministerial posts - defense, foreign affairs or finance.

However, if Lapid headed the Department of Defense, «the officer corps will eat this Playboy without waiting for the election.» To head the Ministry of Finance with Lapid’s education, which finds expression in his ridiculous proposal to balance the $ 40 billion of debt, is political suicide. Ministry of Foreign Affairs? In Israel, it is to be de facto deputy prime minister. Lieberman will be fighting for the post until the end, and Netanyahu is not interested in giving Lapid direct access to his patrons in the West, including in Washington. (7)

Some even come up with anti-Lapid recipes, for example, before the next election giving away free Viagra to Israeli women so they vote on principles, not for the «pretty boy from the television.» (8)

(1) http://cursorinfo.co.il/news/vybory2013/2013/01/26/16-46/
(2) http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/analyse-zur-wahl-in-israel-knapper-sieg-fuer-netanjahu-a-879118.html
(3) http://botinok.co.il/node/83734
(4) http://cursorinfo.co.il/news/pressa/2013/01/23/gaarec--glavnim-pobeditelem-viborov-stal-yair-lapid/
(5) http://ru.yeshatid.org.il/programmes
(6) http://www.palestine-info.
(7) http://maof.rjews.net/elections-2013/27659-2013-01-24-07-18-55
(8) http://our-israel-ru.livejournal.com/1418127.html