Lapid: Moses, Obama, or just Yair?
Just attended a meeting with Yair Lapid at the Sanhedrin Forum in Tel-Aviv; a forum of young professionals that meets about once a month with top Israeli and international opinion makers in an informal setting.
My impressions of the journalist-celebrity-turned-aspiring politician:
He’s oozing charisma. In this way he reminds me a lot of Barack Obama when he was campaigning for the Democratic nomination. Lapid is engaging, funny, intelligent, and shoots straight. The man certainly has rhetorical skills.
What I like about him more than his charisma is that it’s quite clear that he’s human, just a human. While most of the time he can be erudite in explaining what’s wrong with the Israeli political system and what he plans to do to fix it, at other times he stumbles, shyly, because he doesn’t have all the answers. At those moments when he’s in uncomfortable territory, he’s endearing in that he tries; he looks like a man who knows that he needs to start taking this politics thing seriously now that he’s in it.
At other times one wonders if he really knows what he’s doing and what cesspool he’s jumping into. He’s not the first journalist to enter politics with an attitude of “I know how to fix this system because I’ve been reporting on its faults for so long” – only to then slip into the Knesset inside a small or medium-sized party and be swallowed up by the system. That’s what happened to his dad.
Which brings me to an important point: in my previous postings about Lapid, I wrote that I thought he was making a mistake by establishing a new political party instead of joining an existing party like Kadima or Labor. I argued that in essence, what Lapid would be doing is further fragmenting the center-left political bloc [which would total roughly 30-38 mandates] thus ensuring that the Likud would win the next election and could, if it wished to, choose the exact same coalition to govern. Not that I’m picking sides, but doing this would negate Lapid’s stated intention of being an agent of change. He would also inject yet another political party into the already crowded and sectorial political system, making it even harder for a ruling coalition to govern and giving rise to a slew of private interest legislation. So tonight, when Lapid was asked why he didn’t join an existing party, he said that there were simply no parties in the current system that he could identify with; that they were all rotten to their core, that they were staffed by people of the past who hop from one party to another because all they’re interested in is maintaining the status quo, and their jobs.
I must say, I respect his conviction. I like people who stick to their principles and forge their own paths. He might be right or he might be wrong, but let’s see what he’s capable of doing and judge him on his achievements.
Furthermore, he says he knows Israeli politicians well from covering politics for many years as a journalist, and he’s “not afraid of them.” I wonder though about his staying power: just how much fight does he have in him? Because listening to his fighting words, especially against the current political system and pretty much every single serving Israeli member of Knesset [especially the religious MKs but not just them], I predict that Yair Lapid is going to get into the fight of his life. And it’s going to be a long and ugly fight, so it’s just as well that Lapid said he’s going into politics for the long run. “It’s my second career and there won’t be a third,” he says.
He says he’s going to be a good, thorough, and professional politician, that he’s going to take it extremely seriously, and that he’s not going to recruit any serving Israeli MK into his new party [which he'll announce closer to elections]. But like Moses [which he says is his favorite Biblical figure] Lapid, if he is to succeed, is going to have to grab a rabble-rousing, rebellious, spoiled, and quarrelsome nation by the hair and drag it kicking and screaming into the Promised Land. And like Moses, he is sure to lose his patience, and his temper, and his cool temperament, and perhaps even some of his lofty principles at some point down the line, and strike the rock with his rod instead of talking to it. If and when this happens, like Moses, he himself might be denied entry into the promised land [in Lapid's case, the seat of Prime Minister of Israel? the disappearance of his political party after a second or third election?].
Like Obama, Lapid is someone who is banking on a message of change; change in the political system, change in the nation’s fiscal and social priorities, change in the education system, change to the rules of national burden: he promises that he will work for seismic changes to the national fabric of Israeli society: the ultra-Orthodox must serve in the army or national service and they must join the workforce etc. But like Obama, Lapid may be creating too many expectations, and might suffer from this down the line when he’s faced with the harsh realities of the Israeli political system, and the expected economic downturn.
But for now, Yair Lapid is clearly enjoying himself. He’s enjoying “telling the truth” as opposed to politicians’ necessity of messaging and towing party lines. He’s enjoying motivating people and firing up the discontented secular middle class. He’s surrounded himself with top advisers and experienced campaigners who are recruiting volunteers by the thousands. He has working groups and committees for separate issues and he’s not sticking just to Tel-Aviv. He hasn’t disclosed his campaign financials yet, and this could be interesting to keep an eye on.
In conclusion: I’d say Lapid is branding himself into the ‘outsider promising change’ Barack Obama mould, adding the element of a leader who takes his country’s story extremely personally, like an extended family which finds itself going around in circles looking for a way out of the desert. As Yair Lapid said tonight, when he was at his father Yosef [Tommy] Lapid’s deathbed, the elder Lapid told his son: “Yairi, I’m leaving you the family, and the country.”
That’s a heavy responsibility.