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A New Challenger Emerges: Yair Lapid

The following was taken from Jspace.com.  The article was written by Jspace Foreign Affairs Correspondent, Rob Lattin, who also blogs about Israeli and Middle Eastern foreign policy for Foreign Policy Blogs. 

Israel’s political system is notorious for its recycling of politicians. However, a new force is emerging, Yair Lapid, the former head anchor of Israeli television station Channel 2. Lapid’s political ambition has been well documented over the years and he will be running for a Knesset seat under the banner of representing the middle class.

Yair Lapid will try and make the jump from television to politics. (Photo: Wikipedia)

The former anchorman is the son of the late Tommy Lapid, once the head of the Shinui political party. Like his father, Yair believes Israel’s main problems lie with the ultra-orthodox community and the current political system, also the two main gripes of Israel’s shrinking middle class.

For Lapid, the two are inter-connected. He believes that corruption in the government is in large part facilitated by the fact that small religious groups can wield incredible amounts of power. At a conference in Israel, Lapid stated, “look how Shas, with its 11 [Knesset] seats, has the entire country wrapped around its finger. Look how United Torah Judaism, which is even smaller than Shas, conquered the Finance Committee … This is the year in which the red line has been crossed. Fifty percent of all first-graders are either ultra-Orthodox or Arab; this means that if we don’t do something, within 12 years 50% won’t enlist in the army or join the workforce–and that will be the end of the Zionist state … The Palestinians don’t have to fight us; they can have a cup of coffee, smoke a cigarette and wait 12 years until the Zionist state collapses on its own.”

Lapid has no immediate illusions of grandeur and has stated that he will not run for the Israeli premiership. Instead, he told an audience at Tel Aviv University that if elected to the Knesset he would seek to become education minister. He has also repeatedly stated that a Lapid-led party will not contain any politicians currently in office. There were recently rumors that the ousted former Kadima leader, Tzipi Livni, might try to partner with him, but Lapid quickly dismissed the notion via Facebook when he wrote, “no serving politician will be in my party. All over the world, when politicians fail they are replaced by new people with new ideas.”

With all the buzz surrounding Lapid’s political aspirations, controversy was inevitable. Over the last year and a half there was some uncertainty over whether he would be able to run for office. There was question of whether he would be subject to a pending law dubbed the “Lapid Law,” under which he would be forced to take a six month “cooling off” period before being allowed to begin political activities. The law got its nickname from the fact that many saw it as an attempt by the current administration to neutralize Lapid’s political momentum. But the law ended up shelved and Lapid was deemed free to run.

Unlike the Arab Spring, Lapid’s rise does not reflect a youth awakening; something many pundits say is necessary for the sort of transformation of the Israeli political system Lapid is campaigning on. Speaking to Jspace on the question of youth involvement in Lapid’s rise, Jerusalem Post reporter Yaakok Lappin said, “Lapid does not represent a voice of youth, but rather, a voice of the frustrated and hard working middle class who feel that their contributions to the state are going unrewarded. Lapid is playing on the middle class’s anger at the political system, which diverts funds to the Haredi world and to settlements but does not appear to give anything back to the secular professionals who are the backbone of the economy.”

On whether Israeli politics can expect more non-political figures to start becoming involved in government Lappin stated, “[Lapid] is part of a growing phenomenon of journalists joining politics, including Shelly Yechimovitch, former high profile media pundit and now head of the Labor Party, and Nitzan Horowitz, former Channel 10 news man and now a high profile Meretz Knesset Member. Lapid’s entry into politics does seem to represent the entrance of a new breed of political player—someone who has not been involved in politics for most of his or her life, and someone who feels compelled to join the system to fight corruption, social injustice, and political dysfunctional.”

As with any new politician, it is unclear what the future holds for Lapid. In January Israel Radio released a poll stating that a Lapid-led party could win as many as 15 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. At the beginning of February, however, the Times of Israel reported a survey that had him winning only six. He has been criticized for declaring his intentions too early, as his momentum and energy may wane in the exhausting Israeli campaigning process.

On the other hand he has been hailed as the “Knesset’s Next Big Thing.” As Israel hosts some of the most dynamic and complicated political systems in the world, will Yair Lapid be able to reform it? No one knows. But as the United States has seen, new politicians with favorable platforms do not always work out as planned.

 

Author

Rob Lattin
Rob Lattin

Rob Lattin recently completed his Master's in International Affairs at the City College of New York, where he won the Frank Owarish prize for graduating at the top of his class. His thesis explored Democratic Peace Theory and its applicability to small powers, and used the relationship between Turkey and Israel as its case study. Rob received his B.A. in Near Eastern Studies and Political Science, graduating from the University of Arizona with honors.

Rob has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East and has lived in Haifa, Israel. In addition to blogging for FPB, he is the Foreign Affairs Correspondent for Jspace.com. He currently splits his time between Washington D.C. and New York City.

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