Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 15 January 2012

But What Does He Stand For?

Here's what is known about Yair Lapid.  He's a handsome guy with a great hairdo.  He's a popular TV show host with a great voice.  He's a secular Israeli but feels strongly about his Jewish identity.  He's the son of a famous television star and politician, Tommy Lapid.  And he's just quit his show to run for office in the next election.
What's amazing at this point is that some polls suggest a party led by him would earn 15 seats or so in the Knesset if an election was called tomorrow.  Most of those seats would come at the expense of Kadima while Labour would gain and Likud would remain on top.
But what we don't know is the most important thing of all: what does Lapid stand for?  What platform will he run on?
In Israeli politics he has two choices.  One is to try and form a comprehensive party, one that wants to govern and therefore has positions on all issues affecting the country, like Likud, Labour and Kadima.  The other is to form a special interest party like his father did with Shinui and run on that one issue.  Which will he choose?
We don't know.  That's why his polling results are so amazing.  Based on nothing more than personal popularity from his media position enough Israelis would vote for him tomorrow to give him 15 seats.  What does that say about the normally savvy Israeli electorate?
Some I've read claim that Lapid is his father's son.  The recent Charedifada in Meah Shearim and Ramat Beit Shemesh would have been gold to old Tommy Lapid.  Recall that his party, Shinui, ran on one simple issue: we hate Chareidim, and based on that one issue he gained 15 seats in the Knesset and a place at the cabinet table.  It is undeniable that a wave of resentment against the bekishe-clad barbarians rampaging across their television screens could be manipulated into a protest vote, allowing a new Shinui party to thrive in the next election.
On the other hand there are other issues affecting the country.  There is, of course, the ongoing peace process in which the Right tries to maintain Israel's borders and the Left tries to arrange an honourable national suicide in order to assuage its liberal guilt.  There is also the valid question of how to rectify the incredible degree of economic disparity in a country where a few are really, really rich and many are really, really poor and there are less in the middle every day.  If Israel's economic growth is to continue this is someting a responsible government really does need to address.  Could Lapid's strategy be to form a party that will represent the beleaguered middle class and those beneath who feel like they will never succeed because the odds are stacked against them?
What is most probable, however, is that Lapid will be a one-hit wonder.  As this article from Ynet notes, history is against him.
In the mid-1970s the Democratic Movement for Change (Dash) was founded as a response to years of corruption and political cronyism in the ruling Mapai party. Made up of leading politicians, businessmen and academics, Dash exceeded expectations and garnered 15 seats in the 1977 elections making it the third largest party in the Knesset.

Prime Minister Menachem Begin decided to ignore Dash and initially did not invite them into the coalition and formed a government instead with Ariel Sharon's Shlomtzion and the religious parties. Dash eventually ended up joining the coalition five months later. By 1978, infighting and political disagreements led the party to split into three factions and by the 1981 elections the party no longer existed.
The 1990s saw two more new parties vie for the elusive "Zionist center" of the Israeli electorate. Avigdor Kahalani initially broke away from Labor and formed the Third Way party to protest Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's willingness to negotiate with Syria about a possible withdrawal from the Golan Heights.
The Third Way won four seats in the 1996 elections and joined Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's first government along with Shas and the other religious parties. By the 1999 elections, however, much of their voters came to realize that the Third Way had little influence in the Netanyahu government and the party ceased to exist.
Taking the place of the Third Way in the 1999 elections was the Center Party. Led by Amnon Lipkin Shahak, Yitzhak Mordecahai and Dan Meridor, they too set out to appeal to the mainstream Israeli consensus. The Center Party promoted a middle of the road platform on most electoral issues that appealed to traditional voters of both the Labor and Likud parties.
Though it initially faired very well in public opinion polls and even presented its own candidate for the premiership, the Center Party won only six seats in the elections. Prime Minister Ehud Barak included them in his wide coalition along with Shas, United Torah Judaism, the National Religious Party and Yisrael B'Aliyah. The party slowly fell apart throughout the Knesset term and did not run again in the 2003 elections.

Will Lapid actually break that mold or will he be introduced on his new television show in a few years as "Former MK Yair Lapid"?
 Lapid may use his charisma effectively and, with his new party, make a huge impact in the next election.  Indeed that's exactly what his father's Shinui, not mentioned in the article, did.  However it's one thing to run on a protest vote, quite another to be a responsible member of a government while maintaining one's position on the important issues that got one elected.  Israeli history is littered with the political corpses of those who briefly shot to prominence and just as quickly burned out.


Anonymous said...

LatmaTV made fun of his political campaign this week.

Michael Sedley said...

I think that you've hit the nail on the head.

For many years there has been a large "protest vote" from people who aren't happy with any of the established parties and gravitate to whatever new party is likely to cross the threashold.

By the following election, the protest party becomes part of the system, so they disappear or are reduced to 1-2 seats.

The most recent example was the Gimla'im - pesioners party that did very well 2 elections ago, and then disappeared.
Shiniui, and Third Way were also good example.

I suspect that many of the voters for these start-up parties are traditional Labor voters who are disallusioned with the "peace process" but could never bring themselves to vote for Likud.

Many were drawn to Kadima, but now see Kadima as a clone of Labor (Established Center-Left party), so are now looking for something new. That is the appeal of Lapid.