Who is Yair Lapid?

If you want to know the basic facts about Yair Lapid (b. 1963, long-time journalist, son of late MK Tommy Lapid etc), check out his Wikipedia page (page views January 16: 329. Page views January 22: 9501).  He is fluent in English.

But what are his views?

Lapid, the leader of Yesh Atid, has expressed significant concern about the growing share of the Israeli population that is ultra-orthodox (haredi) and the drain they place on state resources. The Israeli middle class is left holding the bag. According to a Jerusalem Post reporter, Yaakok Lappin, “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.” To haredi youth, Lapid said, “We can’t continue to subsidize you.” He has taken on the “mantle of defender of Israel’s middle class.”

On the related question of army or national service, Lapid holds similar views. “Our principle is simple: Everyone must serve,” said Lapid. (more here)

He seems to respect religion but want separation:

[R]eligion should not be involved in Israeli politics, that it is bad for religion and for politics. Yesh Atid is not an anti-religious party. Being anti-religious is not our banner. When it comes to matters of religion and state, my first choice would always be dialogue.

He further lamented, “the tyranny of extremist rabbis” but rejected being labeled “anti-haredi.”

He did not center his campaign on fighting Iran or dealing with the Palestinians. In October, Lapid did distance himself from Netanyahu’s Iran policy, calling for better ties with the US and more emphasis on sanctions.

In the same interview, he took a mixed approach to the Palestinian question: “I am not a leftist. I think the Palestinians should blame mostly themselves. After the disengagement, instead of building hospitals and schools, they fired rockets. But if an Israeli prime minister would be really determined to have negotiations, there would be negotiations.” He would make concessions: “Our goal should be a Jewish majority in Israel, so we will have to withdraw from territories minus the blocs.” He opposed annexation of Area C, about 60% of the West Bank, calling the idea “anti-Zionist.” He wants negotiations but wants to hold onto Jerusalem (much to Emily Hauser’s dismay).

Both right and left have approached negotiations incorrectly: “You don’t come to negotiations only with an olive branch, the way the left does, or only with a gun, the way the right does.” What is the correct frame? “You come to find a solution. We’re not looking for a happy marriage with the Palestinians, but for a divorce agreement we can live with.”

To Aluf Benn, he is “a security-oriented leftist or soft-rightist.” To Amir Mizroch, an agent of change like Obama and “kingmaker to King Bibi.” To Dimi Reider, an “ultra-centrist candidate…who avoided taking any remotely controversial stand on almost any issue.” Reider added, “Lapid is no Rabin.” Yet when it all started, Harriet Sherwood of the Guardian wrote Lapid is “seen as an honest man of the people.”

It does boil down to centrism -  a little this, a little that. For haredi service, but not anti-religious. Against Iran, but not as aggressively as Netanyahu. Critiquing left and right vis a vis the Palestinians. West Bank withdrawal, yes, Jerusalem and blocs, no.

Can someone like that be an effective political leader in Israel today? Time will tell. Or as my co-blogger Brent Sasley wrote back in October, “It remains to be seen if Lapid can hold to the balancing act he’s developed.”

What has he done so far? First, he did not form an electoral bloc with the other center-left parties, Labor and Hatenuah (Livni), despite talk of doing so. Second, and more importantly, he led Yesh Atid to great success in the election. (a few campaign details here) That is impressive but campaigning is not the same as governing. Next stop to prove his mettle: coalition negotiations.

One thing is for sure: reporters like to mention his appearance: “with his good looks” – “a hunky former TV news columnist” – “telegenic” (or here) – “classic good looks.”

Stay tuned.

5 thoughts on “Who is Yair Lapid?

  1. Thanks Jeremy, this is exactly what I was looking to read. Also, do you know where I can read more about Israeli politicians using economic (populist?) arguments against the settlements? Are there any major politicians who are using these economic arguments to push for an end to the occupation?

  2. Pingback: Wednesday Short Takes » Duck of Minerva

  3. As usual, an insightful, well written insight. Thank you, Jeremy. And very hopefully Lapid’s commonsense views will influence the direction Israel will take.

  4. Neil – one thing I’d say is that the J14 movement of the summer of 2011 (the tent protests) was all about social welfare but mostly avoided linking the economic issues to the settlements. They feared it would be divisive. Yesh Atid, Lapid’s party, avoided the link in its platform: “5. Growth and economic efficiency – creating growth engines as a way to fight poverty, combating red tape, removing barriers, improving the transportation system, reducing the cost of living and housing costs, and improving social mobility through assistance to small businesses.” You could look at Labor, Meretz, Balad, Hadash etc. Some platforms are here: http://en.idi.org.il/tools-and-data/israeli-elections-and-parties/elections/2013/ – But overall, I’d say the economy-settlements link has not been taken up by most parties.

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