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Why I Voted for Yair Lapid

The centrist’s simple but emotionally profound Zionism could lead to an Israel less at war with itself

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Israeli actor, journalist, and author Yair Lapid (center), leader of the Yesh Atid party, visits a polling station in Netanya on January 22, 2013. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

When Yair Lapid’s father, the well-known journalist and politician Tommy Lapid, was on his deathbed, he said to his son: I’m leaving you the state of Israel.

Tommy, a Holocaust survivor, meant that metaphorically; the generation of survivors was entrusting the gift of a Jewish state to its children. But with the rise of Yair Lapid, head of Yesh Atid (There Is a Future), which emerged from nowhere to become Israel’s second-largest party in yesterday’s election, Yair’s “inheritence” could become literal. More than any other politician aside from Prime Minister Netanyahu himself, Yair may now determine the next phase of Israeli politics.

“Yair,” not Lapid: We call our politicians Bibi and Shelly and Tzipi with a misleading intimacy, when in fact we can’t bear most of them. But even Israelis who wrongly dismiss him as a lightweight—a former TV talk show host and heart-throb, with no government or combat experience—tend to like Yair.

That’s because he is frankly, unapologetically, in love with the state of Israel. There is nothing complicated about Yair’s Israeliness. He is not a hyphenated Israeli, whose loyalty to the state depends on its fulfillment of an ideological agenda. Yair conveys the impression of a man comfortable in all parts of Israel. He is a secular Israeli who has shown increasing interest in Judaism. He supports a two-state solution and opposes settlement construction outside the large settlement blocs. Yet he launched his campaign from the West Bank city of Ariel, sending the message that settlers are part of Israel too. He opposes the wholesale draft exemption of ultra-Orthodox young men, but he advocates a gradualist approach and has an ultra-Orthodox rabbi on his Knesset list. He emerged as the voice of middle class disaffection, yet included in his list two Ethiopians, representatives of one of the country’s poorest constituencies. (Other parties tend to include a token Ethiopian.)

Some see Yair’s Israeli eclecticism as an expression of ideological immaturity, of indecisiveness. In fact it reflects his ability—alone among today’s leaders—to define the Israeli center.

To understand Yair’s Israeliness one needs to understand his father, who emerged as a teenager from the Budapest ghetto committed to a single act of faith: The Jews need a home. Tommy’s Zionism was simple. It was about gratitude to Israel for helping heal him from the extremities of exile. Tommy’s Israel didn’t need to be territorially whole, or a light to the nations. It simply needed to be.

Yair’s biography of his father, Memoirs After My Death—one of the best books to emerge from the “second generation”—is written in Tommy’s voice, as if from the beyond. (Tommy was a famous atheist, and Yair ends the book with these words: “And then I stopped breathing. … After that there is nothing. I told you so.”) That is more than a clever device: It is an expression of the near-total identification of a son with his father, and with his father’s history. So deeply has Yair internalized his father’s story that he can write Tommy’s “autobiography” in a voice that Israelis will recognize as unmistakably that of Tommy Lapid.

And yet, as Yair has insisted since entering politics, he is not his father. I’ve learned from my father, he’s repeatedly said, but also from his mistakes. Tommy’s biggest political mistake was his divisiveness: His party, Shinui (Change), was aggressively secular, not only attacking ultra-Orthodox separatism but mocking ultra-Orthodox beliefs and lifestyle.

By contrast, Yair has sought dialogue. Last year, in an address at the ultra-Orthodox campus of the Kiryat Ono College, Yair conceded that the ultra-Orthodox had won. Secularists, he said, thought we could create a state that would marginalize you, while in reality we can’t make any major political decision without your input. But, he added pointedly, secularists also won: We’ve created a modern state with a thriving Hebrew culture. And so, he concluded, both camps have to choose between continuing their culture war or jointly taking responsibility for the state they share.

More than any other party, Yesh Atid defines the country’s emerging cultural center. The son of Tommy Lapid has included no fewer than two rabbis on his list. But that list also includes Ruth Calderon, a leader of the growing movement of secularists seeking a new Jewish identity outside of Orthodoxy. The message is radical diversity within a shared Israeliness.

Yair’s ideological challenge will be to clarify the political center and give coherence to the instincts of a majority of Israelis. That centrist majority seeks a politics that isn’t afraid to acknowledge the complexity of Israel’s dilemmas. These voters agree with the left about the dangers of occupation and with the right about the dangers of a delusional peace. Centrists want a two-state solution and are prepared to make almost any territorial compromise for peace. But they also believe that no concessions, at least for now, will win Israel legitimacy and real peace. Centrists want to be doves but are forced by reality to be hawks.

***

I voted for Yair because, as a centrist Israeli, I have no other political home.

Netanyahu, who accepted a two-state solution in principle and then imposed a 10-month settlement freeze, tried to turn the Likud into a center-right party, more pragmatic than ideological and able to attract voters like me. But the ideological right within the Likud revolted. Today’s Likud appears more hospitable to the far rightist Moshe Feiglin than to centrists like Dan Meridor, denied a safe seat in the Likud primaries.

The Israeli media is speaking relentlessly of an even divide between the left-wing and right-wing blocs. That’s nonsense. Yesh Atid isn’t a left-wing party; half of its voters define themselves as right of center. Instead, the rise of Yesh Atid affirms the vigor of the center. Despite the historic failure of every centrist party—Kadima, the last attempt, virtually disintegrated in this election—centrist Israelis continue to seek a political framework.

Will Yesh Atid be different from its failed centrist predecessors? How will the inexperienced Yair Lapid withstand the brutalities of Israeli politics?

I think Yair will continue to surprise us. What has taken him this far is his straightforward thinking, precisely what Israeli politics so desperately needs. (And his political adviser happens to be his father’s closest friend, Ehud Olmert, the ultimate politician.) If Yair remains true to his ideologically simple but emotionally profound Zionism, he could help lead us to an Israel less at war with itself.

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Allan Leicht says:

A limpid, enlightening introduction to Lapid and Atid. I was wishing to be at home in Israel to have voted, but I might very well have made a mistake in the absence of this essay. I will now take a new look at everything. Thanks from New York!

Centrists want a two-state solution but not now? Centrism as you define it is essentially a belief in an indefinite prolongation of the status quo. If you’re willing to live without unconditional American support, that’s fine.

    judahdan says:

    When they say “not now” it is not out of desire, it is out of a cold reality that peace is not possible right now. The Palestinians are still more eager to destroy Israel than to live with her.
    Daniel
    Jerusalem

      Respectfully, I couldn’t be more aware of that. However it may be, if Israel is not pro-active in finding a solution to the problem, it is going to lose even more of the open-ended American support and good will than has already evaporated. That is an untenable situation for a small country with few friends in the world.

    US carte blanch is harming Israel in facing up to its obligations of ending the occupation.

sidney51 says:

How I wish I could some day have the ability to vote for Yossi Klein Halevi- one of my favorite Israelis! How I wish the members of the Knesset, or at least more than a very small minority of them, had Mr. Halevi’s common sense, integrity, intelligence and character! Plus, he’s a nice guy. In other words, he’s a genuine mensch. Thanks Mr. Halevi!

Plumbline says:

Israels enemies are real, and will not give up……..Bibi understands this……

………Spiritual Warfare……..

Revelation 12:17……..17 And the dragon (Satan) was angry at the woman (Israel) and declared war against the rest of her children—all who keep God’s commandments and maintain their testimony for Jesus.

Great article, Yossi.

Poupic says:

Yair like his father’s friend would give part of Jerusalem for some lentils dish named peace the other side has no intention of giving since all it wants is the Land of Israel to make it a Islamic state.

    sidney51 says:

    Blah. Blah Blah. The same old tired B.S.

      Poupic says:

      Right! We are tired of almost daily announcement of the aims to destroy Israel and replacing it with a Islamic state on PA TV, in mosques but in particular in the charters of the PLO and of Hamas were it is spelled exactly.

        sidney51 says:

        And the Likud charter says that there can never be a state for the millions of Arabs living under conditions approaching apartheid viz.: no right to vote, no freedom of movement, no freedom of assembly, no access to courts (only kangaroo military “tribunals”), no freedom of speech, etc etc etc. These are some of the reasons why 180 of 188 countries at the United Nations somehow resisted the personal charms and persuasive powers of then-foreign minister/now-criminal defendant Avigdor Lieberman and elected NOT to vote with Israel.

          Poupic says:

          Nice! A Capo reduced to inventing a charter for the Likud, Apartheid of the lover, Carter. The PA did not have elections because they did not chose elections and Abbas would lose again to Hamas. The reason anti- Israel is so powerful is because Arabs and other Islamic state form the largest voting block at the UN and have been Jews named Sidney support their agenda, their propaganda and doesn’t make an effort to learn the truth.

          sidney51 says:

          Of course you would resort to Nazi metaphors. Again, so tiresome. But also obscene in the minimizing of the Shoah. Also, this post makes no sense- substantively, grammatically, linguistically- you name it. But do please continue to try. Apparently English is not your mama loshen. But here is the relevant text from the Likud Charter: “The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a
          Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river. The Palestinians can
          run their lives freely in the framework of self-rule, but not as an
          independent and sovereign state.”

          sidney51 says:

          180 out of 188? A few more nations than the “Arab bloc.”

          Poupic says:

          The worst thing anyone could to me at this stage in my life. You bore the hell out of me. Plunk!

TV media and newspapers will never tell you that an Israeli firm had placed the explosives that brought down the 3 buildings in NY on 9/11. ICTS was the only security firm in charge for the twin towers and building 7 (most people still do not know about this building that fell without being hit by any plane or other). ICTS was also the security company in charge for all airports that had allowed the highjack planes on 9/11 to depart. The work force of ICTS was the only one people to have access at night inside the 3 buildings and to allow Israeli agents to place those explosives inconspicuously before 9/11. Israeli agents were in fact arrested nearby on 9/11 transporting large amount of explosives in a white van (Chevrolet 2000) but they were later released by the Bush administration. Not as a coincidence, the same day, on 9/11 2001, and at the same time a CIA operation called Able Danger, was reproducing a military exercise that was supposed to mimic an attack by few planes crashing on buildings. But all this was never reported by the media although the future of all people depends on how 9/11 is intended.
http://www.wavevolution.org/en/index.html

spearofpinchas says:

decent article up to the point where Yossi gives the back of his hand to Moshe Feiglin. i recall an old video featuring Yossi’s youth in NY and his survivor father’s influence as a strong Zionist and JDL supporter.. but that was then, and Yossi has, shall we say, mellowed and moved left like as so many others in Israel. E.g., Yair Lapid’s “political advisor,” who we learn from this article is none other than that showboat and disgusting creature, Ehud Olmert! If indeed Olmert is back in the inner circle, I regrettably predict the rapid decline of Yesh Atid into the miasmic swamps of the Israeli left.

EvenSteven11 says:

Good article but terrible to hear that the convicted criminal Ehud Olmert is Yair’s political advisor. That criminal has tried and would again sell Israel to its enemies. Very bad.

Gary Wexler says:

Yossi, you always manage to pull me back into my Jewish and Zionisst heart, even when I am feeling most alientated.

sidney51 says:

Netanyahu was hurt because his party moved far to the right. Goodness
sakes, when Likud, the party that Menachem Begin put on the map, rejects
Begin’s son, Benny (certainly no liberal he) because he was “too
leftist,” the party has crossed the line of acceptability to all but the
most racist and most anti-peace (as well as the large number of Likud
members in politics for what they can get and Likud slops out the gravy
very well, viz.: the uber-sleazebag Tzachi Hanegi who gave unqualified Likud hacks positions as environmental inspectors thus putting our lives at risk is back!).

Who are you seeking peace with? Hamas, Muslim Brotherhood, Hizbullah, PlO, Egypt, Syria, Saudis? All are part of the ones who label you with racist terms, like Morsi. UN 242 as drafted gives you Judea and Samaria, but will you have the nerve to keep it? Obama, Hagel, Brennan, and Kerry would deny you defensible borders, also guaranteed by UN 242. Do you want peace at any price or be able to defend yourselves with what you have? That is your choice. Moderation (centrism) in defense of freedom is never a virtue.

a) His father actually spelled his name Tomy (from the Hungarian).

b) emotion is a dangerous instrument. it can get you into love as well as into trouble with no real means of judgment or ability to make the proper readjustments. in the best of circumstances, in a democracy, at least one gets the chance to vote different next time – er, usually, unless that first vote screwed things up by putting into political office people who have no real qualifications to be parliamentarians.

It never ceases to amaze how friends and foes alike are only able to paint Israel and Israelis’ in absolute extreme terms. The reality is that the overwhelming majority of Israelis’ are neither. We are neither the rich nor the poor. We seek neither war nor occupation. We abhor perpetrating violence (almost) as much as we loathe violence perpetrated against us. We cherish our religion but deplore when its exercised with intolerance and dominance.
The truth is that the overwhelming majority of Israeli’s are just ordinary people wanting to live life in peace and prosperity. The so called Lapid phenomenon is simple – his charisma and message gave us, the silent majority, a competitive voice to the overbearing right and left. Should he remain steadfast in representing us then undoubtedly his party will dominate the next election.

wholesaledvdmall says:

The Palestinians are still more eager to destroy Israel than to live with her.
http://www.wholesaledvdmall.com/

Redwood509 says:

Yossi, Yossi, Yossi, Hoo Lo Stam Bahour Idioti (the song in Hebrew continue: he is not just one stupid fellow) but maybe he had no choice because in time when he wakes up, from this election nightmare, like the “useful idiots” that voted for Obama, and now realize that there is no work, health costs tripling, and all food and energy costs doubling. They had a dream, and woke up into a nightmare, the shallow, vacuous “schwitzer par excellence” Lapid, who is not 1/100 of what his father was, a truly civilized European, is a performance artist, but an empty vessel. When he speaks, it sounds like one more empty speech of Obama. he even reads from the teleprompter well, as Ravi Shankar opined on Lenon’s abilities with the Sitar: “He holds it well”, that’s about all one can say about this media creature. Tommy Lapid is wondering, what have I done, and Yossi, will ask himself: Is this what I voted for? For now , he can continue to hallucinate! As Lapid screamed: We Won!

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Why I Voted for Yair Lapid

The centrist’s simple but emotionally profound Zionism could lead to an Israel less at war with itself

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